Welfare Reform — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:04 pm on 10th December 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour 4:04 pm, 10th December 2008

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?