Welfare Reform — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:33 pm on 10 December 2008.

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Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government) 3:33, 10 December 2008

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made earlier today in the other place by my right honourable friend James Purnell. The Statement is as follows.

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on our White Paper, Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future.

This White Paper will transform lives. We know the support we offer helps people get back to work. It can turn lives around. We want to make sure as many people as possible have this chance. That is why we want virtually everyone claiming benefits to be preparing for or looking for work.

It is a fair deal: more support, in return for higher expectations. It is a deal that has always underpinned the welfare state. As early as 1911, those claiming from the unemployment exchange could be disqualified if they refused a suitable job offer. It is a deal that was extended by the Beveridge report and championed by the 1945 Labour Government.

In 1947 Herbert Morrison said, 'We have no hands or brains to waste, and no resources to fritter away on those who don't contribute to our national effort'. Today, when the national effort is about a global downturn, we can no more afford to waste taxpayers' money on those who play the system than they could then. But most of all we cannot afford to waste a single person's talent.

We inherited a welfare state where less than a third of claimants had to do anything in return for their benefits. Even that third got paltry support to get back in to work, and the rest got nothing. This truly was a welfare state that wasted talent and wasted money, paying for the costs of failure because we were not prepared to invest in the possibility of change. This Government set about putting that right. We taxed the excess profits of the privatised utilities to create the New Deal. We merged the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service to create Jobcentre Plus, so everyone who signed on for benefits also signed up for work. That was the first phase of reform—deepening the obligations to work so there was no fifth option just to stay on benefits.

As we saw those obligations cause youth and long-term unemployment to tumble, we set about the second phase of reform—we widened their scope. We piloted helping those on incapacity benefits with the New Deal for Disabled People and then with the groundbreaking Pathways to Work programme which increases the chances of someone being in work by 25 per cent. So, since this April, we are requiring all new claimants to take part except those with the most severe conditions, and in October we replaced incapacity benefits with the employment and support allowance which focuses on what people can do, not what they cannot. We improved the help for lone parents. With the help of the New Deal for Lone Parents, more than 300,000 more of them are in work. But we wanted more to benefit, so we are requiring lone parents of children between seven and 16 to look for work, and expect that to increase employment and lift 70,000 children out of poverty.

Now the White Paper kicks off the third phase of welfare reform. It is based on a simple idea: that no one should be left behind, and that virtually everyone should be required to take up the support that we know works. It is built on the recommendations of two independent reviews: the Freud and Gregg reviews. This White Paper confirms that we will implement the Freud report in full, including his "invest to save" proposal, where private and voluntary providers invest money to spend on helping more people back in to work, and get paid out of the resulting benefit savings.

Professor Paul Gregg's report was published last week, and this White Paper confirms our support for his vision. It sets out how we will put it into legislation and pilot his recommendations so that nearly all claimants are either preparing for work or looking for work. We will migrate everyone on incapacity benefit on to ESA. Under the new benefit, the poorest and most disabled will get nearly £16 a week extra. Everyone else will get support to manage their conditions and prepare for work. They will be required to attend interviews to develop their plan to do this, and in the pilot areas advisers will be able to require them to implement that plan.

We agree with the Gregg report's recommendation that parents should not be left until their youngest child is seven before they get help to prepare for work. The support we offer for lone parents has been transformed. We pay a £40 per week bonus to any lone parent going back in to work. We pay 80 per cent of childcare costs. We pay for travel costs to the job interviews and for interview clothes if necessary, and when the parent finds work there is up to £300 for emergencies. We can also help people with more serious problems such as depression, debt or drug addiction. Most of all, we have made work pay. A lone parent with one child, working 35 hours a week, will be on at least £304 a week in April 2009, compared to £182 in 1999 when the minimum wage was first introduced. Our goal is simple. We want more parents to benefit from that help in order to help themselves and their children.

That is why conditionality is so important. Only around 5 per cent of IB stock claimants voluntarily took up the support that Pathways offers, and only around one in four lone parents takes up the support offered by their New Deal. Partners in couples where no one is working face even fewer obligations.

The Gregg report found that,

'conditionality backed with a regime of sanctions improves outcomes'.

As a result, the UK enters the downturn with the second lowest unemployment rate in the G7. But the report also found that countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands had lower unemployment and lower child poverty rates than the UK. So, if we want to abolish child poverty and improve social mobility, we need a welfare state that learns from the example of these countries.

This Queen's Speech made it clear that we will reinforce our commitment to ending child poverty through the legislation which the Government will introduce. This White Paper is the other side of the coin, matching higher support with higher expectations.

Some people say that we should be slowing down the pace of welfare reform because of the downturn. The Government believe we should do the opposite. We should not repeat the mistake of the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, when hundreds of thousands were shuffled on to inactive benefits to keep the unemployment count down, and trapped there without support, abandoning them and scarring their communities.

In contrast, we are investing an extra £1.3 billion in helping people find work. But we will have increasing requirements of people the longer they are out of a job to make sure that they do not fall out of touch with the world of work. After a year, everyone will be allocated to a private or voluntary provider and expected to do four weeks' full-time activity. After two years, we will pilot requiring people to work full time for their benefit.

This White Paper will also support children whose parents' relationship has broken down. We will bring forward legislation so that it becomes the default option for both parents to register the birth of their child. And we will fully disregard child maintenance when working out income-related benefits from April 2010 so that children can take full advantage of the money provided for their upbringing.

The White Paper also makes clear our intention to apply new benefit rules for problem heroin and crack users. Instead of receiving jobseeker's allowance or employment and support allowance, crack and heroin users will receive a treatment allowance, alongside an obligation that they address their problem.

But there needs to be help for people to find and keep work as well as responsibilities to look for work. So we will double the Access to Work budget to allow more people than ever before the support they need to do their jobs. And because we recognise that disabled people are the experts in their own lives, we will legislate for disabled people to have the right to exercise choice and control over support they receive from the state. This 'right to control' will be a major step toward achieving disability equality by 2025—a transformation in the rights of disabled people.

These reforms point the way to a fairer society where children do not grow up in poverty, where disabled people enjoy real equality and everyone is given real help to overcome the barriers to achieving their full potential. We are looking after taxpayers' money but looking after the future, too, by making sure we do not waste anyone's talent.

I commend this Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 3:47, 10 December 2008

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement on welfare reform that was issued to the press yesterday afternoon, I believe, in its entirety. At least we in Parliament now know for certain what has been in the public domain for many hours. So when we get inappropriate briefings for the press from government departments well in advance of Parliament being informed of the government's intentions, should there not be established guidelines on what can be said and when? Was the White Paper, which was embargoed until the Statement began in another place, leaked to the press as well?

On the Statement itself, which we on these Benches broadly support, it has been my party's policy that with rights go responsibilities. In whichever part of the House we sit, I hope that we were all brought up with that central tenet. That is why, before many of your Lordships graced this Chamber, a Conservative Government introduced the concept of availability for work as a condition for getting what was then unemployment benefit. It is a bit rich, then, for the Statement to say that the Government inherited a welfare state where less than one-third of claimants had to do anything in return for their benefits. In case anyone has forgotten—I certainly have not—the Government have had more than 11 years to correct this so-called anomaly. Why have they taken so long to come up with these proposals?

What we have here is not part three but part two of benefit reform, which started with the Welfare Reform Act, aimed at getting 1 million of the 1.7 million people on disability benefit into work. I discount the administrative rearrangement that the Statement calls "part two" as I cannot believe that it has made any difference to unemployed people, especially when the Statement confirms that only 5 per cent of invalidity benefit claimants voluntarily took up the support that Pathways to Work offers.

It was just the other day that we debated an affirmative instrument that added new conditions to income support for lone parents with children and put them on to jobseeker's allowance. Over the next year or so, that will affect lone parents with children as young as seven. In that debate I pointed out that lone parents will be happy in work only if they can find suitable childcare. I still have not had an answer from the Minister about whether that can be guaranteed in all parts of the country. If it cannot be guaranteed for seven year-olds, surely the chances of lone parents of three year-olds finding suitable work, and being satisfied that their children are being properly looked after during working hours, are even lower. It is no use the Government paying 80 per cent of childcare costs if childcare is non-existent.

I agree unequivocally with the Government that it is wrong to believe that, because of the recession, this is not the time to be introducing the reforms in the White Paper. The doubters believe that, with Britain having the highest unemployment figures for nine years, with 1.8 million people out of work, any changes to the availability-for-work regime should be delayed. I say to them that there is a strong evidence base showing that worklessness is associated with poorer physical and mental health and well-being. Even in these straitened economic times there are job vacancies to be filled in some places, even if they have been reduced by 40,000 over the past quarter. Opportunities therefore exist, and in my book there is never, ever a bad time to encourage people to seek them. I remember my noble friend Lord Tebbit being roundly criticised for the phrase that he never uttered, "Get on your bike". It was of course spun—just as much as the first four pages of this Statement are spin.

We also agree with separating family units when calculating jobseeker's allowance and income support. We see no reason why half the unit should have to sign on, with the other half getting the relevant benefit with all the conditions that are attached to it while their partner need do nothing at all. That must be wrong.

Chapter 2 of the White Paper sets out the very beginnings of a plan to reform the benefits system, which is so complicated that it is widely recognised as a disincentive to getting people both on to benefits and into work. The amalgamation of benefits was proposed last year by David Freud in his report. I pay credit to him for a piece of work that has framed not only the debate in this area but the very similar proposals of both the Government and my party, as shown in our recent Green Paper.

The Freud report, which the Government say is accepted in full—after, by the way, a Prime Ministerial hiccup that originally rubbished it—gave three options for working age benefits. They were: to continue to reflect people's different circumstances based on the income support personal allowance rate; a single benefit with a single rate; and a single system with two rates, a basic rate and a long-term rate. He concluded that the current system is relatively inefficient whereas a single system with a single rate could maximise efficiency, and a single system with two rates would be very similar to the present arrangements but may be an improvement on it.

Even though the Government have had over a year to go nap on one of these options, they seem to me to be sitting on the fence. They propose to,

"simplify and improve the benefits system following consultation by ... exploring models to reform the benefits system, including looking at a single income-replacement benefit for people of working age", and,

"exploring how we might develop our plans to support carers alongside working towards a simplified benefits system".

That is hardly accepting a report in full. It leaves the door wide open as to what the Government will end up doing. How long will this consultation last, and when do the Government expect to respond to it?

That said, much of the White Paper will be reflected in the welfare Bill, which I hope the Minister will confirm will be published in January in another place, where I would expect a speedy passage. On this side of the House we will give it every support, although as usual I cannot guarantee that it will leave our House in exactly the form that it arrives.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions 3:50, 10 December 2008

My Lords, we on these Benches also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said about the press getting hold of the White Paper before this and the other House. Tomorrow's debate gives the House a chance to explore some of the wider issues raised by the White Paper, so I shall to be relatively brief this afternoon.

We give a warm welcome to the intention in the White Paper to help as many people as possible into meaningful work, but we are more guarded about some parts of it and opposed to other parts of the surrounding policy. It is something of a relief to have the final document before the Bill is published, which I presume will be early in the new year. We have had the Freud report, the Government's Green Paper, No one written off, and just lately the Gregg review, and there has been much speculation about what will be in the final Bill.

The economic climate for any major change to the welfare system is not good, but we know that the Government are determined to press ahead with the full package in spite of the caution given by their own advisers, the Social Security Advisory Committee. Other groups representing disadvantaged people are also very concerned about aspects of the policy, the most concerning being how the tougher sanctions regime is going to work in practice. We must be sure that claimants understand just what is expected of them by Jobcentre Plus offices. Research on how sanctions affected lone parents found that they often did not understand that they were being sanctioned. Why should they necessarily understand that word, or the ghastly word "conditionality"? Other DWP research on Pathways sanctions showed that they incentivised people to attend work-focused interviews, but not to engage further; therefore, it is imperative that the sanctions system is communicated clearly to claimants before it is invoked. I am glad that this was highlighted by Professor Gregg and is mentioned in the White Paper.

However, we hope that the sanctions regime will be a last resort. Will there be real flexibility in Jobcentre Plus offices for dealing with those who have fluctuating conditions such as ME, MS and mental health difficulties? I know that the purpose of the regime is to get people to comply with their obligations by attending work-focused interviews and, later on, taking part in work-related activity, but there will be many people who are not fully engaged simply because of health problems. It would be heartless to subject them to sanctions.

Another area of concern is compulsory community work experience in return for JSA after two years of claiming. We are absolutely opposed to treating the unemployed like criminals, which is bad enough in a benign economic climate but unforgivable in a severe recession. Nor do we agree with supplying free labour to employers while paying individuals less than the minimum wage. What would be the difference between this kind of work and community service? Punishment is one thing; meaningful employment or work experience is another, for which people should be paid adequately.

We are opposed to any measures that force lone parents with children younger than seven to find work until there is more flexibility in jobs, full evaluation of the changes already made in this area and, most importantly, affordable and adequate good-quality childcare in place across the country. I note that the Minister said that those with younger children must "prepare for work". Will he tell us what that means?

What should be factored into any calculations of childcare is that, in a recession, when a lot of older workers have been made redundant, more grandparents are likely to be jobseekers and therefore not available for free childcare duties. On a more positive note, we warmly support the fact that parents on means-tested benefits will be able to keep all their child maintenance payments from April 2010.

We support moves to pay private and third sector organisations to provide back-to-work support that caters for individual needs rather than for a one-size-fits-all programme, but the Government must adopt the right funding model. There must be some incentive to ensure that companies help those furthest from the job market, otherwise they will cherry-pick those easiest to place and leave the rest, particularly in today's climate. The White Paper, I am glad to say, explicitly addresses this issue in the sentence,

"we believe we can successfully discourage parking by designing programmes and funding models to properly incentivise providers".

Apart from the split infinitive, that statement is welcome, but must be properly monitored.

I am pleased to see that the White Paper makes clear that carers will not be moved from income support on to JSA until the Government have a clear and detailed plan setting out how they will reform the benefits system over the longer term.

Finally, we add our voice from these Benches to those who are calling for an independent commission to look at the whole benefits structure, including tax credits and the tax system in general to reduce complexity, increase transparency, improve work incentives, cut fraud and error and increase take-up.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government) 3:56, 10 December 2008

My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have participated thus far in our deliberations. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, started with the issue of press briefing. I simply repeat what I said last time he raised this point, when we debated the PBR. I have no idea who may or may not have leaked documents. That is not the way that I proceed, and I think that I have always dealt with the noble Lord and other colleagues in the House on a very straightforward basis as far as that is concerned.

I agree with the noble Lord absolutely, and it is a key thrust of the paper, that with rights come responsibilities. I am pleased that we have a shared understanding of that. He said that it was a bit rich that we should come forward after 11 years with these proposals. There has been a journey to deal with these issues. We started, as I said, with the New Deal and putting together the Benefits Agency and employment support in Jobcentre Plus. That was the start of the programme, and we moved on, as the noble Lord acknowledged, with the Welfare Reform Bill to introduce the employment and support allowance. It is not right to say that IB is only an administrative arrangement, which I think was the thrust of his point. The number on incapacity benefit is 2.6 million, but that is down 178,000 since its peak in 2003 and down 47,000 in the period from May 2007 to May 2008.

The noble Lord raised again the issue of childcare. Let me be clear that there will be no requirement in the White Paper for lone parents with children under the age of seven to look for work. The Gregg report looked at three categories: the work-ready group, those for whom progression to work was important, and those for whom there should be no conditionality—people in the employment and support allowance group. The noble Lord will be aware that we have invested well over £25 billion in childcare for the early years in England since 1997, and the Government have stated that by 2010 there will be a childcare place for all children aged between three and 14 in England whose parents want one, with that provision available on weekdays between 8 am and 6 pm. Again, as I said when we debated the regulations regarding lone parents, if no suitable or affordable childcare is available, there will be no requirement on a lone parent to take up work. I hope that that was very clear from our debates.

The noble Lord makes the point, and I agree, that we should not step back from this process simply because we face challenging economic times. What has fundamentally changed and developed in recent years is that there is a clear understanding that work is good, not only for people's financial well-being because it is generally their best route out of poverty, but for their self-esteem and health as well. Therefore, all the work that we are doing to help people get closer to the labour market, or to stay in the labour market, is very important. It is right to say that, notwithstanding what has happened to the headline unemployment figures and the rate of employment, some 200,000 people were taken off jobseeker's allowance in each of the last two months. It is a dynamic situation. I am pleased that the noble Lord supports our approach to couples.

We remain interested in David Freud's ideas for a single system of working-age benefit, but none of the options is straightforward and we would need a high degree of public acceptance before embarking on changes on this scale. We are considering the best way to initiate a public debate, and will put forward proposals when we are ready. Freud did not make any specific recommendations for reforming the benefits system. His main conclusion was that there were no obvious solutions and many difficulties in moving from where we now are. However, we remain attracted to the idea of a single benefit and continue to develop our thinking.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, welcomed the thrust of the White Paper, but with some reservations. She queried whether we were right to proceed in the current climate, but I would simply reiterate that we have learned lessons from the past. We need to keep people who find themselves out of work close to the labour market, and not languishing on benefits. We need to prepare people for the upturn. The noble Baroness made reference to sanctions and, particularly, the need for clarity. I absolutely agree and think that that point is dealt with in the White Paper. If we are going to sanction people, it is important that they understand what is involved, why it is being done and what to expect. That is a fundamental component of a fair system.

The noble Baroness took issue with the White Paper's proposal to pilot people working for benefits. I think her point was that, at the end of a year on the flexible New Deal, the unemployed might be stigmatised or criminalised. I am bound to say that that is not how we see it. The whole thrust of this is about supporting people and helping them back towards the labour market and, we hope, into it. The noble Baroness was pleased that we are not proceeding with any suggestion that lone parents whose youngest child is under the age of seven should have to take up employment.

What does preparing for work mean? It could mean a variety of things. It could mean dealing with a skills need, family budgeting or childcare arrangements. It is important to have flexibility on this. The noble Baroness also referred to the fact that contracting arrangements need to ensure that people do not cherry-pick, and that the easiest to get into work are not addressed first while others are forgotten. Some discussion of the proposals for accelerated payments—so that the more people we get into work, the greater the payment—will help to address that particular issue. I am pleased that the noble Baroness supports our decision that carers should not be moved on to JSA before we see where the review is heading.

The noble Baroness addressed the case for an independent commission. The Government are aware that there have been calls for an independent commission, but are not convinced of the need for one, especially since there is a broad consensus that we should find ways to simplify the system and improve work incentives while maintaining flexibility to provide for groups with different levels of need. I hope that addresses the points raised and deals with Members' queries.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 4:04, 10 December 2008

My Lords, I strongly support the Government's policy of moving people from welfare into work, and accept the appropriateness of a degree of conditionality. However, is the Minister prepared to give the House three assurances?

First, on 25 November, I put it to the Minister that, in requiring people to take up work, it is essential to have regard to things such as the availability of accessible transport; the nature of the work itself; whether it is suitable for the person concerned, given things such as their impairment, previous career and work history; and whether it is reasonable to expect a person to take up a job that would lead to a fall in their family income. I think that the noble Lord was inclined to agree with me. Will he see to it that the legislation will prescribe that factors such as these are taken into account in requiring people to take up work?

Secondly, will the Minister see to it that the legislation includes provision for statutory assessment of a person's needs when they become disabled while in work, as called for by John Robertson MP in the Private Member's Bill that he introduced in another place? Those needs could then be taken more effectively on board by employers, with a view to enabling people to remain in work rather than fall out of the labour market. Thirdly, will the legislation remove what I think the Government recognise as the disgraceful anomaly whereby people with severe sight loss are precluded from claiming the higher-rate mobility component of DLA?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, on that last question, the noble Lord will be aware that we have continued to look at the issue he has campaigned upon. We are not yet in a position to accede to the request that drives that campaign, but we will doubtless continue to engage with it.

On legislation, there is already a process embedded in the Welfare Reform Act 2007 requiring a work-focused health-related assessment. As IB customers are transferred on to that system, that will operate for them as well.

The noble Lord reminds me of an Answer that I gave on 25 November on suitable work, available transport and significant falls in income. All of those issues should be properly taken into account.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, I was having lunch with somebody on Monday who was involved in a company that was placing people in employment. The company was paid a retainer and then a success fee after 13 weeks if the person was still in a job. He rather surprised me by saying that one of the burdens put upon the company was to find the unemployed in the first place. He actually had to send people around areas where people might not have work and identify the unemployed. Is that a case of data protection? It is extraordinary that his company could not be helped by being given the list of people claiming benefits, so that it could at least visit them and ask about it.

To follow up on the point about sanctions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, from the Liberal Benches, I am unclear what happens if somebody refuses to respond to any of these initiatives. Do they get all their benefit removed? Do they then find themselves on the street begging? I do not quite understand how the sanctions systems work and would be grateful if the Minister would make that clear.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I am a little puzzled about the noble Lord's first point, but would be happy to engage with him outside this exchange to understand the detailed and specific circumstances. Under the new proposals for the jobseekers' regime, there will be three stages conducted with Jobcentre Plus. The flexible New Deal contractor would then kick in, but that would be via an arrangement involving Jobcentre Plus. I am trying to think of circumstances where contractors would just be asked to go and find the unemployed and deal with them themselves. That does not fit with the proposals that we are talking about, but I would like to understand it a bit better and see if there are issues that we should be addressing. It is not an integral part of these proposals.

Varying sanctions apply in varying circumstances. If it is the employment and support allowance, it would be the withdrawal of its work-related component.

As regards the fundamental point that the noble Lord presses, there are protections for vulnerable people, which we debated in relation to the lone parent regulations. The level of the sanction withdrawal is restricted, particularly where children are involved. However, it is quite a complicated regime; hence the need for clarity in it. I shall be happy to write if the noble Lord wants more specific detail.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I consider that my noble friend is absolutely right to point out the benefits of work. It is also absolutely right for the Green Paper to emphasise that the longer you are unemployed, the more unemployable you become. That has been transparently obvious over the years. Therefore, the focus, even before a child is seven, of keeping a parent, particularly a lone parent, attached to the labour market, if necessary backed up by minor hassle, is absolutely right for the long-term investment in that family's future.

It is sometimes easy for male authors of reports to underestimate how hard it is for a lone parent on a low income and often in poor health, coming out of a marriage or a relationship, to bring up children and hold down a job. It is seriously hard work and stressful, infinitely more so than the situation of a 20 year-old who does not care to get out of bed in the morning. I hope very much, therefore, that jobcentre staff will understand—I am sure that they will—the stresses and strains which somebody torn three ways at once faces. At the moment if you are either disabled or a lone parent, 16 hours' work qualifies you for tax credit and therefore effectively counts as full-time work for benefit purposes, even though full-time work is normally regarded as 30 or 35 hours a week. Will my noble friend confirm that that is still the case and that we are not expecting lone parents to be sanctioned if they seek to work for less than the formal 30 or 35 hours a week; in other words, that the 16-hour regime will continue? Will he take on board very seriously the point by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that the longer our population lives, the more we shall need to support informal and family carers as an inexpensive and much more attractive alternative to very expensive residential care? Anything we do to make it more difficult to be a carer will have perverse effects on us all. Can my noble friend also give me assurances on that?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I can certainly do so as regards the latter point. The White Paper makes it clear that we will not seek to transfer carers from income support to any regime which requires conditionality for them, certainly until the Department of Health review is completed and we have a more holistic picture of how we should support carers. I very much take the point that they provide a huge service to many people in our country and that we should value them as much as possible. I absolutely accept the point about the difficulty of lone parents moving towards and going into the labour market. One of the key components of the White Paper is that rather than determining what people are required to do and how they go about that when they are dependent on benefit—whether it is employment and support allowance, income support or jobseeker's allowance—there should be more flexibility to address their particular needs. In particular, the relationship with the advisory Jobcentre Plus in building a relationship and developing supportive help will be important. The noble Baroness referred to 20 year-olds having difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. I am bound to say that as a 62 year-old, I sometimes suffer from the same problem.

The noble Baroness also asked about flexibility for people who wish or need to work only 16 hours per week. The JSA rules include flexibility around availability for work. This can be negotiated and discussed with the adviser.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

My Lords, at the moment it is a right that for 16 hours of work you get tax credits which give you a workable income. It is a right, not something to be negotiated flexibly. Will that right continue?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, the obligation under the regime will be to comply with conditionality. Depending on the lone parent's circumstances, this will mean engagement with the job market and taking up employment. As I have said in previous debates, it would enable people to work only for 16 hours a week. I am conscious that that has probably not answered the specific question about whether, if that is an absolute right, it is being withdrawn. I think that the answer is no but I will have to write to the noble Baroness on that.

Photo of The Bishop of Bath and Wells The Bishop of Bath and Wells Bishop

My Lords, I note from a very quick look that the White Paper requires people to take part in full-time activity in return for benefits. Who will provide the full-time activity? Will it be provided in the form of a government scheme or is it expected to take another form? I am not clear how this proposal will be implemented.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is probably referring to the four weeks of activity during the first year of flexible New Deal. That provision should be part of what the New Deal provider, which would be a private or voluntary sector contractor, would have to facilitate. I am looking to the Box for more support, but I believe that to be the case.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions

My Lords, I refer to the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about the single working age benefit. It is not just David Freud who came up with this idea; Professor Gregg did as well. Would I be right in interpreting from the Minister's reply to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that there is no likelihood that provisions for a single working age benefit will be in the forthcoming Bill? It would be very helpful to know that.

Secondly, the Statement said that Access to Work was to be extended to 48,000 people with disabilities, but the scheme could assist nearly a million people. Getting people into work, assisting employers to provide work, and sustaining work so that it is not just "no pay to low pay" but no pay into a job with a career in prospect, are essential elements of this policy if it is to meet the needs of the client group it is seeking to serve.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, in terms of what the legislation is likely to contain, everything in the White Paper will not necessarily need to be translated into primary legislation. Some proposals can be dealt with administratively under current arrangements, some can be dealt with by secondary legislation and some will have to be dealt with by primary legislation. The proposal is for a power to be taken in that legislation to remove income support from the scene but no power, as far as I am aware, to go further than that currently. The implementation of that removal of income support depends on a range of things, in particular the issue around carers, which we touched on earlier.

Regarding Access to Work, we think that 48,000 people would be helped in 2012-13. The budget has been doubled; that is very significant support for disabled people and a very popular programme. Of course it is not all that needs to be done. There is the whole panoply contained in Pathways to Work. There are the new arrangements around psychological therapies to support people—the IAPT programme—and embedding advisers into that programme. There is the range of measures that Carol Black is looking at under the cross-government approach to employment and people with mental health conditions. There are, of course, obligations under the DDA on employers in any event to make reasonable adjustment. So Access to Work is an important part of the picture but not the whole picture.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I have two questions on younger children. First, the noble Lord will no doubt be aware of the great importance of the relationship between a very young child and its mother or other parent. This secure attachment is particularly important in the first three years. Can he give us an assurance that the Government will not in any way bring pressure on parents to leave their child and go to work or training during that period?

Secondly, will the Minister explain the logic of paying an 80 per cent grant for parents to send their child out to childcare so that they can go to work and not paying anything to the parent who stays at home to look after their own child?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, on the first point, the proposals that we have previously discussed and which are being put in train are for lone parents whose youngest child has reached the age of seven to engage with the labour market. The change that we are dealing with in the White Paper is for those lone parents with younger children to prepare for work, and we are going to pilot some of those arrangements. The proposal is that that would engage where lone parents have their youngest child between the ages of three and six, so it would exclude the very young children to whom the noble Lord refers.

The issue of encouraging all parents to work if they wish to seems to me to be important. It seems right that we facilitate the opportunity, whether it is one parent or two parents who wish to work, for there to be good quality childcare provision. At the end of the day, the issue is, if there is reliance on the benefit system, who should engage with it. That is why, as part of these proposals, we are seeking broader engagement for situations where there is a couple, perhaps one of whom, sometimes the one who would need to engage least with conditionality, makes the claim. We want, in a sense, to reverse that process.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills

My Lords, will the Minister clarify whether, if there is no provision within the state, the 80 per cent can used in the private sector?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I assume that the noble Baroness is referring to childcare provision. It is not necessarily state provision that we are talking about; it could be any appropriate provision. I think that most of it is in the private sector, and some of it is provided by the wraparound arrangements at schools. It is for any provision that is qualified provision.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, who is responsible for making a decision about what is a serious condition? The noble Lord probably knows that I am going to refer to the ME community. At the moment, they are absolutely terrified of anything to do with social security benefits, because they fear that they will be made to go to work or to do cognitive behaviour therapy or graded exercises to get themselves better, when they know that the extra stress involved is likely to make them more sick.

I remind the noble Lord that both the Chief Medical Officer and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recognise ME as a serious condition in line with multiple sclerosis and motor neurone disease. Far too often, ME people are made to feel that they are the scum of the earth, that they are scrounging and seeking attention. Please can I have a reassurance that these people will not be forced into employment when they cannot maintain it?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, I believe that I can offer that reassurance. On the fundamental question of who decides, medical advisers are contracted to Jobcentre Plus who undertake the assessments for the purposes of the employment and support allowance. Certainly, if judgments are made that people are not able to engage with work and do not have the capacity to work, they will be put in the support group and there will be no conditionality attached to them. There is a broader issue around people with fluctuating conditions, and it is important that those who are engaged in these assessments are knowledgeable about these things, and we believe that the people who we use are knowledgeable. The noble Baroness raised that specific question on a previous occasion. Perhaps I can write to her further on that.

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I have been listening to this interesting discussion. In our area, I understand that we have apparently healthy couples who have not worked for years. Apparently, they have close knowledge of this complicated subject, and the clerk, who is dealing with a large number of people, cannot compete with them in putting these arguments. Is this the case?

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my question related to the people who deal directly with those who have not worked for years, and who are highly skilful in knowing all the ins and outs. Do they have the time to investigate?

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, it is an issue of resources for Jobcentre Plus. It is an important point, particularly given the current economic situation and the strains that will be placed on Jobcentre Plus. The answer is yes. As part of the PBR, £1.3 billion extra was made available. Some planned closures of Jobcentre Plus offices have been put on hold, given the current challenges faced by Jobcentre Plus, but it is important that the resources are there. However, it is not only a question of resources for Jobcentre Plus; as part of the new contracting arrangements—and in particular the Freud proposal, which is about the AME/DEL switch—the intention is to draw in private sector investment, which in due course will be reimbursed, paid for out of savings in benefits. Those arrangements will be piloted and will also be part of the resource issue.