My Lords, last summer, the Government published the Green Paper, No One Written Off: Reforming Welfare to Reward Responsibility. Following consultation, the White Paper, Raising Expectations and Increasing Support, set out proposals further to reform the welfare system to ensure that nobody is left behind and to ensure that we continue to have an active welfare state that supports people by building on approaches which have been successful over the past decade. Many of the measures set out in the White Paper do not need changes to primary legislation. This Bill makes those changes that are needed to deliver our reforms. It will put in place the systems to ensure that everyone gets the personalised support they deserve and that that support is matched with responsibility. It will form the bedrock upon which we will build a welfare system that is responsive and fit for the challenges we face moving into the next decade.
We know that work is good for people's health and self-esteem, and that it is the best route out of poverty. We know that the vast majority of benefit recipients want to get back into work, but many face barriers to doing so, barriers that can be varied and challenging. Our next stage of reform is about creating a system which recognises that barriers to work are different for each individual and that it is flexible enough to respond with personalised support, a system where most people move towards an eventual return to work and are expected to take up the support available to them. We know that this approach works and that combining rights with responsibilities, having regular contact with our customers and getting them to think about a return to work can not only change mindsets and outcomes; it can change lives.
There are rightly those who should not be required to look for work or to undertake activity to move closer to the labour market. That is, people with caring responsibilities, with serious illness or disability and the parents of very young children. But many will want to make this journey and we must support them in doing so. We must make the support better, more flexible and more suitable for people when they need it. That is what Part 1 of the Bill addresses.
In his review of conditionality, Professor Paul Gregg identified these broad groups: those who are work-ready; those where an immediate return to work is not appropriate but where, with time, encouragement and support, it could become a genuine possibility—the progression to work group—and those for whom there should be no requirements. The progression to work group would include those in the work-related activity group on employment and support allowance, partners of certain benefit claimants and lone parents with young children. The Bill makes provision for requirements to undertake work-related activity and for people to be mandated to a specific work-related activity prescribed in an action plan.
We intend to test the progression to work approach in a range of pathfinders for those lone parents with a youngest child between three and six. We are starting with this group because there will be a strong foundation of childcare provision available to them. Jobcentre Plus will pay for that childcare where necessary.
The system we want to put in place is based around a continuing relationship between the adviser and the claimant. We will ensure that we create an appropriate sanctions regime that is clear and provides incentives to recomply—even for those who continually fail to do so. Work, for those who can, substantially lowers the risk of poverty for families, with and without children. The surest way to address child poverty is to support more parents into work. We want to ensure that preparation for work becomes a natural progression rather than a sudden step.
The Bill contains powers to ensure that those on ESA in the work-related activity group undertake activity most appropriate for ensuring that they can return to work as soon as possible. Advisers will support people to undertake activity that will be beneficial to that individual. These reforms will deliver better, more flexible, more appropriate support to people across the spectrum of out-of-work benefits: a personalised model of support and conditionality that is not dependent on the benefit you claim, but on the circumstances in which you claim it.
The work ready group are those on jobseeker's support allowance. Most people who claim JSA leave benefit in less than two years. Indeed, even in the current economic climate, most leave within six months—though some linger. We need to build on the substantial support that we are making available earlier in the jobseeker's regime to minimise the risk that jobseekers will repeatedly cycle through the system.
From April this year we introduced a refreshed jobseeker's allowance regime for all new customers. For longer-term jobseekers this will be followed by a flexible New Deal, a tailored programme delivered through the private, public and voluntary sector. In pilot areas, some of those jobseekers who complete the flexible New Deal without obtaining work will be required to take part in a "work for your benefits" programme.
We know from international evidence that programmes that consist of work experience in isolation are not always effective. We want to learn from this and develop a programme that meets our own needs and moves people into work. That is why we will be including additional employment support in the programme. It is designed to help long-term unemployed people remain close to the labour market and to provide them with the experiences and training they need to end the cycle of benefit dependency.
Some people have asked why, given the challenging economic backdrop, we are taking these measures now. The answer is simple: it would be wrong to abandon people and repeat the mistakes of previous recessions. We have a choice between an ambitious welfare state that lifts people out of dependency and a passive one that traps them there. We are putting resources into Jobcentre Plus to help customers now, but we also need to ensure that we have the right systems in place for when the economy picks up, which it will. Now is not the time to abandon our reforms. In fact, the challenges we face now are a reminder that we need to be ambitious in the changes we are making for the future.
We also need to be ambitious in combating problem drug use. Drug misuse causes damage to health, particularly mental health; it is a significant cause of crime and family breakdown and contributes to social exclusion. It can also contribute to worklessness, with the added problems that this brings to individuals and their families. Problem drug users who are claiming ESA or JSA will be expected to take steps to address their drug use where it is a barrier to their participation in the labour market. These new provisions allow for the introduction of a regime that will provide personalised, integrated support to help drug users overcome their drug dependency and to gain employment.
These are sunset provisions. Within two and a half years of the regulations coming into force, the Secretary of State will be required to report on the pilots and a statutory instrument will be needed to continue or repeal the arrangements. This will allow a full evaluation of the provisions.
This Government have a powerful record in tackling discrimination and promoting equality for disabled people. Our pledge is that by 2025 disabled people should have the same opportunities and choices as non-disabled people, and should be respected and included as equal members of society. Building on the progress to date, we are taking powers in the Bill to introduce a right to control for disabled adults. We acknowledge that disabled people are the experts in their own lives; they are best placed to control how state funding is used to meet their individual needs and ambitions.
We will achieve that by enacting provisions that empower disabled people, provisions that will mean they have the right to know how much money is available through specified funding streams to meet their needs, and to have a say in how that money is spent, delivering real choice and control. They will also have the right to take a direct payment if that is the best option for them.
The regulations will implement a new policy framework, which is fully intended to put the disabled person at the centre of the process. We are committed to consulting widely on the details of how the right to control will work.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, for chairing the advisory group set up to support the development of this policy. The group has offered an excellent range of advice, challenge and constructive discussion that has helped to shape the context of this Bill. I thank her for this and her ongoing work with the EHRC.
We will be introducing the right to control in several trailblazing local authority areas from 2010. We will use the trailblazers to test important aspects of that right. In the trailblazers we will also be evaluating how the services under the right to control fit with community care services in order to ensure a seamless provision of self-directed support. It is important to make sure that the right to control aligns with the Government's vision for the personalisation of community support, which was set out in the cross-government concordat, Putting People First.
The Bill also brings forward an important measure to extend the higher-rate mobility component of disability living allowance to disabled people with severe visual impairments. I am sure noble Lords will welcome this major change and join me in thanking the RNIB—in particular its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Low, who I know cannot be here today—not only for pressing its case so persuasively but also for working so constructively with my department.
This is a change that has drawn support from across the political spectrum. Unfortunately, in the enthusiasm of the moment, the Bill was amended twice in another place to this effect. As such, we will be taking a government amendment to remove Clause 13, a redundant clause whose ambitions are achieved through Clause 12. Indeed, we wish to introduce a modest number of technical corrections to the Bill, in order to ensure that the powers function correctly. We will, of course, give clear notification to the House at the appropriate time.
We want to take powers further to simplify the benefit system so that it is an easier system for people to engage with. This includes provision to abolish income support once there is nobody left claiming it. Powers in the Bill would allow us to move claimants of income support onto jobseekers' allowance, retaining the same level of conditionality they would experience on income support. The aim is to move towards a simpler system of benefits for people of working age, based on two main benefits: ESA, which is specifically for sick and disabled people, and JSA, for a range of other groups.
However, we have made this commitment: we will not move carers from income support until we have a clear and detailed plan setting out how we will reform the benefit system over the longer term. We also propose to amend the law so that couples, where one partner is capable of work, make a claim for JSA. This will ensure that the partner who is closest to the labour market can access as much support as possible to move back into work. We are abolishing the last adult dependency increases in the benefit system, and will align more closely the contribution conditions over ESA and JSA.
We are also intending to reform the way in which loans are provided to people on benefit. We intend to take powers that will allow certain loans to be provided by external providers instead of through the Social Fund. These measures are not designed to privatise Social Fund loans, but to tap into the wealth of financial expertise which lies outside of Jobcentre Plus. Let me be clear: we do not intend to charge interest on Social Fund loans, and this clause will not allow for an external provider to charge interest on social loans. It will enable us better to promote and extend financial inclusion, and to grant access to the support and advice available to others in their community while they are on benefit and when they move into work.
At the same time, we are also taking powers to improve the delivery of community care grants, to allow the Government to provide items such as white goods at a much lower cost. This Bill also contains provisions to extend the circumstances in which payments on account of benefit can be made.
We will not tolerate violence towards either against Jobcentre Plus staff or providers and will sanction those who engage in such behaviour. Benefit fraud is at its lowest level ever, but we are not complacent and will increase the sanctions for those who are found to have committed benefit fraud.
Pension credit has been highly successful in addressing pensioner poverty, but it has become increasingly difficult to reach those we believe are entitled, but are still not claiming. We are taking a pilot power in the Bill to explore ways of making better use of information we already have in order to improve take-up. It is part of the Government's continuing campaign against pensioner poverty.
We expect parents to take responsibility for the welfare of their own children. That is why we want the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to be able administratively to remove the passports and driving licences from those parents who have a history of wilfully refusing to pay maintenance for their children. I do appreciate that some noble Lords may be unhappy to see these provisions back only a year after the then Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill passed through this House.
However, having looked again at the issue of such administrative powers, taking particular note of the evidence from the USA and Australia, we have concluded that, with appropriate safeguards in place, an administrative process is likely be more effective for both driving licences and passports. Let me stress that the use of such powers will be a last resort, when other forms of enforcement have been attempted and maintenance remains unpaid. However, they create an effective deterrent, thereby influencing the behaviour of those non-resident parents who might otherwise fail to support their children financially, which is more significant than the number of administrative orders actually made.
We are also modernising the way in which parents are registered after the birth of their child. We need to act to ensure that the birth registration system reflects the diversity of modern relationships. Our amendments to the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 are designed to do that. They will promote child welfare and parental responsibility by ensuring that as many children as possible have the names of both parents on their birth certificates. However, the protection of vulnerable women is also a key concern. If a mother fears that contacting the father and asking him to register might be construed as a provocative act and risks harm to herself or the child, he would not be contacted and she would be able to register alone. In that way, we can achieve a balance between the need to protect vulnerable mothers and their children, and the right of a child to be acknowledged by both parents.
The Bill is the right way forward. It is designed to work with people to lift them and their children out of poverty and to be flexible enough that the requirements placed on people are aligned to their circumstances. It is designed so that the expectations we have of any claimant are realistic and achievable. We are not in the game of creating a welfare state which punishes people. We want to create a welfare state that supports people, which ensures that the safety net is never abolished, but which does not forget the third principle of Beveridge's welfare model that social security can be achieved only through co-operation between the state and the individual.
We are working to provide the help that people need to deal with the challenges of the recession today, but we are also determined to take this opportunity to help people overcome the obstacles that they may face in the future. I commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, before I start my remarks on the Bill, I congratulate the usual channels on the decision not to break into this debate by taking the Statement on swine flu. I hope that all speakers agree that that will lead to a much better and more fluent debate.
The Minister, to whom I am grateful, has this afternoon introduced the second Welfare Reform Bill in just two years. As with the first one, which intended to encourage the 1 million people on incapacity benefit who say they want to get back into work to do so, this is another complicated and framework Bill.
Complication has been endemic in social security benefits for decades, so I do not complain about that, even though one intention behind the Bill is to simplify the system by taking a power to do away with income support—a benefit introduced in 1996 in another place by my noble friend Lord Fowler and by my noble friend Lady Trumpington in your Lordships' House. I therefore agree with the Freud report which says that the ideal would be for a single out-of-work benefit. If this becomes reality, I, for one, will welcome it, as I am sure will all those who fall into welfare whether they are able bodied or disabled, and so, too, will their advisers. I shall return to this theme later both today and in later stages of the Bill, not least because it was highlighted by speakers of the "Need not Greed" campaign launched in this House in February.
We have every right to complain about the number of regulations that will be needed to bring the Bill into practice. Although I have not added them up myself, Mencap and Mind, to which I am grateful, have both commented on this aspect. Mencap pointed out that,
"some of the most crucial aspects of the Government's welfare reform agenda will under this Bill be brought into legislation by regulations ... rather than by primary legislation".
It then goes on to add them up and says that,
"the Bill refers to regulations 387 times".
Will the Minister confirm that that is a record number that has never been surpassed by any Bill—ever? Is he in a position to give us any of this huge number in draft before we start the Committee stage? If not, we are in for many long, hot, interrogatory hours in Grand Committee, whither this Bill is destined. How many hours will the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee need to deliberate? It is hard not to sympathise with Mind, which has said that,
"it is difficult to welcome without reservation a Bill which leaves many of the details of the proposed reforms to be set out in as yet unpublished regulations".
That said, my party has been pressing for reforms similar to those outlined in the Bill, especially in Part 1, which is about the welfare to work agenda. I have said numerous times from this Dispatch Box that we believe, as we have always believed, that with rights go responsibilities. I was glad therefore to hear the Minister make a similar point. In this context that means that if the right to jobseeker's allowance is not matched to the responsibility to do one's level best to find an offer of employment within one's capabilities and to take it up, sanctions of one sort or another should be used. Alas, very few have been used up to now.
There are those—perhaps we will hear them today—who say that this is not the time to bring in such proposals. Last week's unemployment figures speak for themselves. In the quarter to February 2009, 2,100,000 were unemployed, using the ILO basis. In March 2009, 1,464,100 were claiming jobseeker's allowance—363,000 new claimants. The Minister knows the figures well, and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy who, by his persistent questioning, keeps the House up to date on them.
I say to those who question the timing of the welfare to work provisions that they are needed now more than ever. The numbers of those out of work are increasing sharply and no one in their right mind would want this number added to the existing long-term unemployed figures. That is, of course, those unemployed for over a year. These are expected to more than double from 170,000 to 400,000 in this year alone. Just think of the untold misery that this would bring to thousands of families and individuals up and down the land. I was surprised, therefore, even shocked, by the early attitude of the unions. In my simplistic way, I would have thought that more employment would mean more union members.
As I have said, on this side of the House we are in favour of any measure that helps people to find work. We welcome the proposals that jobseeker's allowance claimants are to be required to participate in schemes that will help them into employment. Undertaking work, work-related activity or training are all things of which we approve. This is to be undertaken by outside bodies rather than by the Government themselves and in the first instance it will be piloted. We understand that there will be a few area-based contractors who will then sub-contract to specialist organisations, many of which will be charities which specialise in helping people with particular problems, such as physical or mental problems. We want to investigate this aspect in Grand Committee.
The Bill moves on to talk about ways of getting single parents into work. The Government have been progressing this with existing order-making powers to the effect that, up to the First Reading of this Bill in another place, the proposals would apply to those with children of seven or older. The Bill goes further than that, however. At one point in another place, I understood that the intention was that it would come down to the youngest child being five years old. I was therefore confused when the Minister talked about children of six years old. Perhaps at some point he will explain.
The Bill goes further than that, however, and it would seem that the Government intend that lone parents with a child as young as three should attend a work-focused interview and repeat that interview every few months. What happens after that remains unclear, and we will be investigating that when the time comes. Indeed, my honourable and right honourable friends had the—what shall I say?—temerity to divide on this point on Report in another place, believing that mothers with very young children, up until school age, should be left to their own devices to relate—"bond" is the current buzzword—to their children. This caused the Minister's temporary boss, who is the 13th Secretary of State in 12 years of this Government, to say that we are against the whole Bill. Let me make it clear that one swallow does not make a summer, or perhaps more accurately, one snow goose does not make a winter. Will the Minister dissociate himself from the Statement by the Secretary of State who, to coin a phrase, was economical with the truth?
However, that is politics; what should concern your Lordships is whether this part of the Bill will have the desired effect. The devil, after all, is in the detail. The Bill does not need to go into detail on sanctions because, by virtue of a negative instrument debated by your Lordships on Monday, they already exist. However, the department provided an explanatory note for that order, detailing the step-by-step approach that it will then take to get people back into work. I, for one, will be putting that to good use in Grand Committee.
Claimants who fail without good reason to take part in the Flexible New Deal, which is aimed at helping those on jobseeker's allowance to find work, may have their benefits reduced or stopped for two, four or even as long as 26 weeks. That also introduces a sanction of one week's loss of benefit for those claimants who fail without good reason to attend a back-to-work session when directed to do so. However, I understand that hardship payments are available when appropriate. Your Lordships' Merits Committee noted that the order was not accompanied by an impact assessment, so there is no way of telling whether the operating costs will be absorbed within the current DWP budget allocation, even with an extra £1.3 billion being added to that budget in the PBR in November. Will the Minister be able to provide us with such information as the Merits Committee failed to achieve?
Talking of operating costs, why have the Government shied away from committing themselves to the DEL-AME switch? We will, I am sure, all become closely acquainted with the jargon as this Bill progresses. However, to put it in a nutshell, that switch means using money that is saved by getting people off benefits—and into work—to pay for the contracts, which will need to expand for the foreseeable future as the unemployment figures rise. In other words, it is a virtuous cycle that appears too virtuous for the Government to adopt. We will also want to look at the terms of the contracts, which are currently front-end loaded even though the objective is the end result of getting people back into work and keeping them there.
Concerns have been expressed that Clause 9, which covers drug users on JSA being made to go on rehabilitation courses if their condition affects their prospects of finding work, falls foul of the Human Rights Act. I realise that I am taking on the heavyweights of the JCHR, but I fail to see why someone using an illegal product can use the law to continue their habit. Schedule 3 extends the sanction to those affected by alcohol abuse which, being a legal drug, is in a different category. As a personal aside, I am rather surprised that the smoking police have not got in on the act. To be serious, what legal investigations have been undertaken to substantiate the Minister's claim that the Bill does not fall foul of the Human Rights Act—which, incidentally, had such a going over in Grand Committee yesterday?
Before leaving Part 1, I congratulate the Government, who, even in these economically straitened times, have acceded to a long-standing demand of the Royal National Institute of Blind People: that blind people should be eligible for the higher rates of mobility and disability living allowances. I understand that the Government became slightly overenthusiastic at the last minute about that; we look forward to their correction when it is made later.
Part 2 of the Bill will be of great interest to your Lordships. It enables disabled people to take control of the services provided to them and to live more independently. Individual budgets are already being piloted in some areas and the results are, unsurprisingly, positive, although I understand that it is not working as expected. Only around 10,000 people currently have individual budgets, and a fifth of those are in the Borough of Oldham. We will need to discover if this new provision will work any better. I also note the parallel provision in the Health Bill that is currently going through the House, the debates on which will, no doubt, inform us during our studies in Grand Committee.
We will also need an adequate explanation for the exclusion of social care money, which the Minister has just mentioned. Why are the relevant government departments unable to co-operate? The aim of personal budgets should be for the convenience of disabled people, not for the departments involved. The Royal College of Nursing makes the point that these proposals should not break the nurse/patient relationship by making nurses one of the gatekeepers. I think that, given the way it wrote its brief, it probably meant—never mind what it meant, "gatekeepers" will do.
Part 3 concerns the sanctions available to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission when non-resident parents refuse to support their children. Your Lordships will remember that we had a long discussion on the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission Bill about whether it was appropriate to remove driving licences and/or passports from such "refuseniks" by administrative action rather than through the courts, as is currently the case. Claiming that the Bill had run out of time, which was not the case, the Government dropped that provision after many noble Lords, supported by your Lordships' Constitution Committee, had waxed lyrical against the proposal. This Government find it impossible to take no for an answer, as we have seen in the repeated attempts to extend detention without trial.
So, here we are again with the confiscation of driving licences and passports. There is, though, a slight amelioration as far as driving licences are concerned. CMEC will undertake a pilot for two years, after which a form of sunset clause will apply. The Secretary of State must lay a report within six months of the end of the two years. If the Government wish to go firm on the administrative removal of driving licences, they must lay an affirmative instrument within 30 days of the publication of the report. It is a big "if" to my mind as I cannot imagine any non-resident parent not appealing to the courts. However, the Minister may or may not be relieved to hear that I am prepared to give it a go and a fair wind. What I do not understand, though, is why the sunset clause does not also apply to passports, though my view on this will be coloured by what, if anything, your Lordships and the Constitution Committee have to say on the matter; as, I hope, will the Minister's.
In winding up, my noble friend Lord Taylor will speak to Part 4, which deals with the registration of births. To me, though, it is another CMEC provision. So although the Bill technically has four operative parts, in reality it is like Gaul. The Minister will appreciate that, while I have probed a few of the matters in the Bill, they are at the moment matters of detail, not policy. We on these Benches believe in the policy behind it, although we are surprised that the welfare-to-work provisions have taken so long to reach Parliament. Those provisions can be traced back to the Conservative Party manifesto in the 2001 general election. We advocated paying private contractors a fee to take on an unemployed person, and paying a success fee if they find a job. That is why I believe that the policy is right. I only hope that it is not too late for the escalating number of people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves out of work.
My Lords, unemployment is set to rise to more than 3 million by next year, with some forecasting civic unrest and rising crime. Those who have redundancy packages are finding that they are meaner than they thought and that jobseeker's allowance is a paltry £60.50 a week. In July, 600,000 young people will leave school or college looking for jobs, adding significantly to the ranks of the unemployed. Will Hutton of the Work Foundation has called it an unfolding social calamity.
Into this dark landscape the Government have introduced the Bill that the Minister has outlined. There are two ways of looking at the measures proposed. The first is that this is the worst possible time in which to introduce a tougher regime for all jobseekers because the jobs simply are not there, and imposing sanctions for non-compliance with the regime will hurt, not help, vulnerable claimants. The second is that this is precisely the time to give people more help and support to look for jobs, and a tougher sanctions regime all round is necessary to catch the workshy. The cynical say the tough talk is broadly for Daily Mail readers while the more constructive focus about extra help for jobseekers is for, say, Guardian readers. Even the Social Security Advisory Committee, in its quiet way, wonders whether the Government's primary analysis is that people are unwilling to work and need to be coerced into employment, or whether it is that those who are unemployed require more support to overcome barriers to the labour market.
It is not just the timing of the Bill which is of concern. After all, some of the measures will not be rolled out across the country for several years because they will be piloted first, so any Government in the future will have quite a bit of leeway. The main issue is whether the Bill's provisions are likely to fulfil the Government's admirable aim to get more people off benefits and into properly paid, sustainable jobs without causing vulnerable people real trauma and distress. We on these Benches do not think the Bill has the balance right. At the very least it contains too many sticks and not enough carrots, and the clauses relating to drug users are of questionable legality. However, as we have heard, the Bill is warmly supported by the Official Opposition; they even say its conditionality does not go far enough. So we will have to concentrate on examining how the proposals are going to work in practice, and on moving and supporting amendments that try to mitigate some of the Bill's harsher provisions. After, we are not the first to point out that how the Government proceed will determine what they will achieve.
First, looking very broadly at the work-for-your-benefit scheme for the long-term unemployed, which sets the tone for the whole Bill, it is not at all clear how it is going to help claimants find a properly paid job. If a claimant is mandated on to full-time work—that is, 35 hours a week—after two years' unemployment in order to keep their benefits, are they still jobseeking and, if so, how? How long could a work-for-your-benefit scheme last? The Explanatory Notes say the Government envisage that claimants may participate in these pilot schemes for up to six months. Could this mean working full time for £60.50 a week for six months? No wonder there is perturbation among the unions and others that any such placement looks very much like work on the cheap. Why can the long-term unemployed not be encouraged to take short-term paid employment such as seasonal work? This is surely something the Government should approve of, particularly in the circumstances of a much weaker labour market than we have had for many years. The Government seem keen to stress that work-for-your-benefit is about work experience, including the discipline of getting up every morning to go to work, but any scheme lasting as long as six months looks much more like real work than work experience.
It is not as though unemployed benefit claimants are all keen to dodge work in order to live a life on benefits. Many new claimants will have been working for many years only to find that their employer has gone bankrupt and their safe job has disappeared. Other claimants with low-level mental health problems or fluctuating conditions will soon be migrated from incapacity benefit to JSA and will need a lot of personalised help from Jobcentre Plus and other providers to get them to a state of job readiness. Sanctioning vulnerable people is very worrying. Evidence from other countries about how their similar schemes work for those with multiple problems is not convincing and we urge the Government to evaluate their pilots of this particular proposal very carefully before rolling it out. Perhaps the Minister could tell us whether this will be the case.
Looking at the sanctions regime, there are plenty of instances given to us by Citizens Advice where existing claimants have been sanctioned but have simply not understood that this was going to happen, whether for reasons of language or perhaps learning difficulties. The Government say that sanctions are a last resort but the CAB evidence does not give us any confidence. Research by the DWP shows that the impact of sanctions on lone parents is negligible, yet in the Bill the Government are increasing the coercion and conditionality regime on them to seek work, which perhaps says something about the value the Government put on parenting in today's world.
Our starting point is that there is no typical lone parent. There are many with very young children who have not long been out of the job market and are keen to get back to work, but others who have been out of employment for years and have no up-to-date skills or any self-confidence. Each one has different circumstances and they should be able to make a choice. However, there will be no choice unless, at the very least, three practical issues can be addressed. These are: better quality, affordable childcare throughout the country, particularly for older and disabled children; much more flexible working, admittedly not easy for all small employers; and better public transport, particularly in rural areas. Another crucial factor is continuing high quality, well resourced, personalised support from Jobcentre Plus and contractors. These matters and others will be explored properly at later stages of the Bill. At this point, I pay tribute to the Government for at last recognising in the Budget the role of grandparents of working age in childcare arrangements. We also give a positive welcome to the right to control for disabled people, which I will come back to later, and to the extension of higher rate mobility of DLA to blind people.
The treatment of those with drug dependency is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the Bill. There is no question but that jobless people who are unable to hold down a job because they are dependent on crack cocaine and heroin are a burden on the state, and it is understandable for society to want positive action taken to help get drug-dependent people back on their feet. But should we be getting tough by threatening to withdraw benefits for non-compliance with treatment or a treatment plan from those who may have not only an addiction but also mental health problems? Emphatically the answer must be no. Coercingpeople to have treatment for addictions is known to be counterproductive and could mean they flee the benefits system altogether, only to turn to crime to finance their drug habit. The Government's rationale seems to be that benefit money from drug users tends to go straight into the pockets of drug dealers. However, some of it also puts food on a family's table. Liberty and other organisations say that the proposals will breach the right to privacy under the Human Rights Act, notwithstanding government assurances that safeguards will be put in place once the Bill becomes law. Only this week we received the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which bluntly recommended that these proposals are deleted from the Bill unless clear evidence is provided to support the Government's view with appropriate safeguards.
If this part of the Bill survives, we need to know how it will work. Jobcentre Plus staff may have plenty of experience of working with people they suspect of being serious drug users, but they are not trained to deal with them as 'drug users rather than as jobseekers. Any assurances the Government make must be put in the Bill before this part is allowed to become law, not least about data sharing with the police force and Probation Service. The Minister in another place said details were still being discussed with the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. I hope we get further in this House with finding out the results of that consultation before the Bill has passed all its stages here. There are also unresolved issues about the devolved Administrations and whether the pilot schemes outlined will be run in Scotland and Wales. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us.
Last week my honourable friend Paul Rowen asked how many JSA claimants had entered voluntary drug rehabilitation programmes in the past five years, to which the answer was that the Government do not collect information on the medical conditions of JSA claimants—another reason why this is not the right Bill to address this complex subject.
I now turn to the right-to-control provision of services for disabled people, a welcome provision which is the third leg of a personalised budget for disabled people, joining social care and health. To my mind, the most important question is whether the three funding streams can be pulled together; otherwise what is a good initiative could get completely bogged down in confusion and complexity. This, too, will have to be explored at a later stage. I note that the director of adult social care in Oldham, Paul Davies, when giving evidence in another place, graphically said:
"What does not work is a load of bureaucratic jiggery-pokery at the back as organisations try to sort things out, and not always seamlessly".—[Official Report, Commons, Welfare Reform Bill Committee,10/2/09; cols. 8-9.]
Before ending, I wish to raise an important matter. Here I echo the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale: the Bill is shot through with phrases such as "regulations may make provision for" and so on. We have heard of 387. We are quite familiar with DWP Bills having to legislate through regulations and, of course, we understand why but, even so, this Bill is perhaps the worst of all.
We now also have the shifting sands of pilot schemes in the mix. Although we have nothing against pilot schemes, this is another way of Ministers being able to be vague with Parliament. Between pilot schemes and regulations, it is very difficult for those of us whose job it is to scrutinise, in Parliament, what the Executive are proposing to get a handle on exactly what is being proposed in some very important areas of public life involving the spending of large sums of money. When the parent Act is not explicit about what the regulations will do, the situation is very unsatisfactory.
Certain safeguards are supposed to be built into the system. One is for the Social Security Advisory Committee, the body set up to guide the DWP, to look at the regulations, to give its view and, if necessary, to report. But the Government very often ignore its advice, or take only one bit of it. The Delegated Powers Committee will report on the Bill before the Committee stage and some time afterwards the Merits Committee eventually plays its part in scrutinising statutory instruments. But I wonder whether we should not be looking at the super-affirmative procedure for at least one of the most contentious parts of the Bill. This would allow Parliament to see a genuine draft of a statutory instrument which would, I believe, be open to amendment.
I shall end with a quote from the Minister in another place, Kitty Ussher, about how the social fund would work in future with external providers, which illustrates much of what I have just said. She said:
"There is not even a draft contract at this stage. It is about taking a power to keep options open later".—[Official Report, Commons, Welfare Reform Bill Committee, 12/2/09; col. 81.]
That seems to sum up the Bill.
There is much work to do on this Bill, and we on these Benches will play our part in doing it.
My Lords, this Bill contains many significant reforms. Some offer new kinds of support to those who face the biggest barriers to gaining and staying in work. Other reforms in the Bill cause me some concern but the Minister will be pleased that today I wish to concentrate on what I think are some of the most exciting proposals contained in Part 2 dealing with right to control. That has my strong support, although I have afew minor caveats.
I begin by declaring an interest. As the Minister has stated, I have the privilege to be the independent chair of the right to control working group, established by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in another place. That group is developing new forms of support for disabled people to enable them to move from being passive recipients of traditional benefits to becoming more active in the community and, more importantly, in the labour market. That new support, which we are developing, will be transformative: disabled people will be in the driving seat and, in essence, in control.
For too long the welfare system has provided a safety net for disabled people's survival. It has not provided a springboard to enable entry or re-entry into the labour market. It has done things to people rather than facilitating their aspirations to become more socially and economically active. Low expectations, bureaucratic multiple assessments and fragmented support services have left disabled people unemployed for decades. Part 2 of this Bill provides a completely new framework for taking forward a right to controlwhich potentially revolutionises the way support needs are assessed and delivered.
The right to self-determination through self-operated support is not a new concept. It has come about from the very strong campaigns by the independent living disabled people's movement in collaboration with Governments over the past 30 to 40 years. It really took off in the 1980s when a few disabled people began to control their personal care arrangements by using direct payments to employ personal assistants. Thirty years later, we have a whole range of personalised support, mostly financed through social care provision. Thankfully, disabled people taking control of their support is now spreading to other areas of public service provision.
Today we will discuss this right with respect to welfare reform. Next week, during the Report stage of the Health Bill, we shall discuss something very similar, when we debate health budgets. The snowball of personal control is growing by the year and this makes me a very happy disabled person. I know that feeling is shared by hundreds of others out there listening to this debate.
However, disabled people need a set of consistent principles, criteria and support to underpin this programme. The most important role of Part 2 will be making sure that the legislation is fit for this holistic purpose. Weneed to be sure that the trailblazers, who are going to test howthe right to control can be developed effectively for alldisabled people, will have the power to involve different service providers under the same right-to-control framework.This is not just a DWP project. Across Government, departments must be engaged in establishing a holistic support infrastructure and it is the joined-up aspects of this legislation that I have slightly less confidence in.
RADAR and the Disability Benefits Consortium have been echoing my concerns that the drafting of Part 2 does not accurately reflect the policy intention set out in the White Paper, Raising Expectations andIncreasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future. The White Paper was clear that the intention was to draw together a range of different funding streams to support a new system of individual budgets, based on self-directed support, and yet the Bill explicitly excludes social carefrom the ambit of the right to control. I have been assured, by the Minister responsible for social care in another place, that this is purely a matter for alignment at a later date. Apparently, social care feels it is ahead of the game on this issue with individualised budgets. It wishes to be involved, but not included under the right to control umbrella. I was told that this legislation could override social care regulation, which has taken the right to control further. I am not yet convinced. I foresee a danger that, unless social care is included in the Bill, disabled people will not be able to exercise their right to control over all social care services. That means not only the right to control direct payments, but the right to control resource allocations, whatever they might be, including direct services as well as direct payments. Would it not make sense to have all support services that help disabled people under a wide framework with one set of principles?
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has been authorised to allow me to complete her speech to accommodate her breathing difficulties.
I am very much aware that the Government's intention is to join up social care with other funding streams, but good intentions are not enough. It is far better to have a clear duty in the Bill, especially as there is no legislative basis for local authorities to operate individual budgets. Words matter. The White Paper stated that the legislation is intended to,
"provide clarity for both public authorities and disabled people and, in the event of wider roll-out ... help ensure universal and consistent application of the right to control principles".
I am looking for some clarity from the Minister today, and I will be looking for the same clarity of intent as we proceed in Committee.
I am also looking for some clarity with regard to the trailblazers, which, I understand, will test how to develop the right to control so that it effectively maximises disabled people's economic and social participation. I should like some assurance that it is fully understood by the Government that these are trailblazers, not pilots. Pilots are vehicles to test whether a new government programme is viable, as well as how to do it. A trailblazer is a programme that concentrates on how to implement the right to control, not if it should be implemented. The right to control is legislative policy intent, and trailblazers are created to develop that policy into practice.
Finally, choice and control should be fundamental principles underpinning the delivery of benefits and back-to-work support. I am concerned that other parts of the Bill directly contradict this. For example, it is proposed that personal advisers may direct employment and support allowance claimants to undertake specific work-related activity if they deem claimants' choices to be ineffective. Evidence suggests that motivation is one of the key indicators of success in job seeking. If you pursue work-related activity that interests you, you are more likely to persevere and succeed than if you are pushed towards other activities against your wishes. The same principle should apply to any "work for your benefit" scheme, as provided for in Clause 1.
The Bill holds some of the keys to unlocking the potential of disabled people who want to participate in and contribute to their communities. It offers a radical shift to a different, more empowering, welfare state. However, we have some work to do to ensure that the Bill will help to meet that objective. I look forward to participating in its progress through the House.
My Lords, no one disputes that work is the main route out of poverty for most people. In recent years, much effort has been focused on the long-term unemployed, to get these hard cases—who may have experienced several generations of unemployment and have few, if any, role models of people in regular work from their own families—back into the job market and employability. Many of these people have multiple problems, from physical to mental health problems and addictions to drink and/or drugs. This was a reasonable thing to do when, to all intents and purposes, we were close to full employment. The question that really arises from the Bill, and was highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, a few moments ago, is what happens now, when jobs are not as plentiful and many people are unwillingly unemployed and, however much they may retrain, unable to find the work that they want? I have some rather alarming statistics from my own patch. The percentage of people claiming jobseeker's allowance last year in the borough of Havant, including the Leigh Park Estate, was 2 per cent; this March it was 4 per cent. On the Isle of Wight it was 2.3 per cent; now it is 4.4 per cent. That colours my thinking on and approach to this Bill.
I will raise a few generic questions and then some more specific ones before I conclude. Is a recession really the moment to introduce a stricter benefits regime, in which people have to work or train to continue to receive benefits, or "workfare" as some sardonically call it? Is the goal purely financial; that is, to reduce the cost of benefits and the rising public sector debt burden? Is it just for central government's benefit? I hesitate to ask such a wry question, but it is an elephant in the room that needs to be given a certain capacity to roar in the gentler atmosphere of your Lordships' debates. If the goal is not primarily financial, what are the chances of getting these people into work? Job centres are already full to overflowing with people who really want jobs. At the same time, they are empty of jobs to offer because of the recession. Then there is the perennial question, underlying all this, about whether a benefit is a condition or a right. A Bill is unlikely to resolve that. Is it reasonable, particularly at this moment in the recession, to use what appears, to at least some of us, to be punitive methods to incentivise people towards engagement and employment?
I come now to some specific questions. There are concerns about the proposal to use private firms to provide employment services. It seems to some that it is taking a bit of a risk to use an organisation of such a character and level that a Government could not possibly do it. There are issues about the criteria that will be used to judge whether someone, particularly a person with disabilities, is regarded as fit and able to work and whether this judgment will be made by a qualified medical expert or a civil servant. Then there is the question of vulnerable households and the need to know their means and circumstances before their income is reduced below—or further below—poverty level.
I have another specific question, which I know concerns many people, about joint birth registration. There is anxiety about men being allowed to put their names on a birth certificate without the mother's consent in all situations, particularly in cases of alleged domestic violence. It is, on the surface, a well intentioned desire to be fair, but in practice it is, in my view, neither right nor just.
I very much wanted to speak in this debate. At the moment, in my spectacular convalescence, midnight is a little late to go to bed. I hope noble Lords will not mind if I leave before the end. I conclude with two quotations. The Church of England's response to this Bill is:
"We welcome and support the overall aim of the Welfare Reform Bill which is to help more people to find worthwhile employment and to reduce dependency on benefits".
However, there are questions and I hope that my questions and those raised by other noble Lords may lead to creative amendments. My second quotation comes from a lecture by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered in his native Wales in March:
"Our ethical seriousness is tested by how we behave towards those whose goodwill or influence is of no 'use' to us. Hence the frequently repeated claim that the moral depth of a society can be assessed by how it treats its children—or, one might add, its disabled, its elderly or its terminally ill. Ethical behaviour is behaviour that respects what is at risk in the life of another and works on behalf of the other's need".
My Lords, the Bill continues to replace income support with jobseeker's allowance, but introduces progression to work where children are between the ages of three and seven, if I have understood it correctly. JSA is a man's benefit: it supports him between full-time jobs; it assumes a sharp divide between being in full-time work and out of work, at which point the conditionality regime kicks in. The conditionality can be relatively tough, because beyond six months non-contributory JSA applies to the 22 year-old reluctant to get up in the morning.
IS is very different. It is largely for women and recognises that their unwaged work counts too. Most are lone parents—although for less than five years before they return to work or repartner. Whereas JSA is for men between jobs, IS is for women who have children but who are often between partners. I emphasise that it is important to keep lone parents attached to the labour market for their own sake and for the sake of their children, which is why I strongly support the principle of the Bill and the progression to work, many of whose proposals strike me as both attractive and imaginative.
However, whereas men on non-contributory JSA may have been out of the labour market for a year or two, for lone parents the period may be a decade or more. The longer you are out of it, the harder it is to re-enter. The lone parent may have fewer skills, poorer health, deeper poverty and, above all, precarious childcare arrangements. As for sanctions, which I accept are essential if the JSA regime is not to be simply voluntary, the 22 year-old is likely to be at home and able to fish the family fridge, but sanction the lone parent and inevitably you sanction the child.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, mentioned the ineffectiveness, based on research, of sanctions for lone parents failing to attend work-focused interviews. I suspect that a financial incentive—a cash incentive— would be far more effective. Will my noble friend tell us about that? I am sure that we all welcome the in-work credit of £40 a week for the first year for a lone parent back in work. Will my noble friend confirm whether some version of that could be attached to progression to work as well?
The Government, to their huge credit, have made work pay. Tax credits can double the take-home minimum wage of a lone parent and make work worth it. The Government have also addressed childcare, the second key challenge. Childcare tax credits fund formal care but, for many women, the childcare of choice, the one that they trust, is that from their own mothers, which is why, like the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, I am absolutely delighted that any grandparent caring for more than 20 hours a week will be credited into the NI pension if they are of working age. I think that we all thank my noble friend and the department for that.
I am sure that my noble friend will confirm that it is the lone parent, not the adviser, who will determine that the childcare is both appropriate and available. The truth is that, if the mother is unhappy about childcare, or perhaps her child is voting with his feet, the lone parent will not stay in work, which is why the tax credit system nearly toppled over when it could not cope with the changes in childcare arrangements.
I am also worried about transport, especially in rural areas. Under JSA conditionality rules, you are expected to be able to travel up to one hour a week to a job and an hour back for the first 13 weeks on benefit and, after that, an hour and a half each way. I hope that my noble friend can give me an unequivocal assurance that that will not be applied to lone parents, who—unlike the 22 year-old, who has only to take himself to work—may need to get two children to two different schools opening at 8.45 am when her proposed job may start at 8.30 am, is an hour away and even the childminder will not take the children until 8 am. Unless the home, the childminder, the two schools and the job are all within very easy reach of each other, the lone parent's logistics, especially in rural areas where she has no car and public transport is weak, are impossible. The truth is that if she cannot find a job within easy reach of a home—say, in one of the schools that her children attends, or a local newsagent—she cannot work. No JSA regime can change her personal geography.
She might be able to get a mini-job—eight to 10 hours cleaning houses, caravans or boats in Norfolk, seasonal work in a local B&B or picking mushrooms—while the children are at school, topped up in due course by six or eight hours a week in a newsagent. It will, however, be entirely up to chance whether together her jobs take her over 16 hours and into tax credits—good news. If they do not and she cannot make up the 16 hours, she may, alas, draw her benefit and enter the grey economy.
We are then surprised about the fraud in the system—fraud that we have helped to construct. Why? Because we have a perverse benefit structure that allows her to keep every penny for her first four hours of work; that is the disregard. She then loses every penny for the next 11 hours of work, because she has used up her disregard. Then she doubles her money at 16 hours thanks to tax credit. Yet we know from Kate Bell's research that one of the best predictors of her getting a proper job is that she held a mini-job the year before. Already, 27 per cent of jobs advertised at Jobcentre Plus branches are for fewer than 16 hours per week. Will such a mini-job meet JSA conditionality over and beyond the progress-to-work proposals? Why limit it to £40—in other words, doubling the disregard—or only seven hours-worth of disregard? I suggest that we must have a ladder so that eight hours' work pays more than six, 12 hours pays more than eight, with a tapered reduction in benefit until at 16 hours her wage, topped up by tax credit, takes over.
I know that DWP fears that, if it is worth working 12 hours a week, she will not work for 16, she will stick—but, frankly, does that matter? Even at 12 hours a week, she would have more money—that would address child poverty—remain engaged with the labour market and be far more attractive to employers because she is committed, more work experienced, reliable and sorted when she is ready for a job with more demanding hours.
Why is it that the median number of hours worked by partnered women is 15—a real addition to the labour market and to family income and much sought by employers—but that of lone parents is only four or five? Answer: because partnered women with partners in work are not caught in the benefit trap, while the lone parent is. The partnered mother keeps every penny; the lone parent loses most of hers. Then we are surprised that lone parents are not similarly attached to the labour market as partnered women. It is a no-brainer. The outcomes that we all want will not happen until we have sorted out the benefit trap. Changing IS into JSA is not, by itself, enough. Personalised conditionality is not enough. Progression to work is not enough. We have to redesign the benefit structure so that it is on the side of those who want to enter work in a graduated way. There is a huge prize here—reducing child poverty—but we may need to enlarge our strategies to do so.
Several years back, I remember a lone parent who was on the New Deal for Lone Parents and going to work saying, "I have a life, but what this has given me is a future". I hope that, if my noble friend is able to accept some of the amendments, the Bill will do that for many more lone parents who need that boost to their support.
My Lords, I support the Bill, as it is evident that the welfare system in this country is in urgent need of reform. Nevertheless, the Bill can be further strengthened during its passage through this House to ensure that we are as brave as we need to be in placing welfare reform at the heart of the strategy required to mend broken Britain. A welfare system cannot be simply a safety net; it requires a more fundamental support structure to bring the poorest in our society back into the productive mainstream. William Shakespeare wrote:
"'Tis not enough to help the feeble up, but to support him after".
Welfare reform is desperately needed today. Five million people are on out-of-work benefits. At present, nearly 2 million people are unemployed and over two-thirds of jobseeker's allowance applicants are repeat claimants. Indeed, as this country further falls into the throes of recession, now must be the time to reform our welfare system and to begin to repair our broken society. Let no one tell us that a recession is the wrong time to address welfare reform; it is precisely the current socio-economic climate that makes reform more urgent, not less. The recession provides a platform from which a new welfare consensus can emerge—one of real workfare, where rights are balanced with responsibilities, where the poorest in our society are given the skills and opportunities for upward mobility and where the notion of dependency culture is a thing of the past.
Many of the details of this Bill originate from Conservative proposals. There seems to be a growing consensus as to some of the steps required to address our current welfare malaise. More than 10 years ago, the Government came to power claiming:
"We will be the party of welfare reform ... we will design a modern welfare state based on rights and duties going together".
That is stated in the Labour Party manifesto of 1997. The reality is that this opportunity was missed, but now we are at a point where it is being addressed. Now is the time to seize the moment. William Beveridge saw the SecondWorld War as the opportunity to build a welfare state as part of the road to reconstruction; let us use today's recession in a similar way to reform our welfare system.
To this end, I welcome most of Part 1 and the social security clauses of this Bill. It is important to have greater flexibility, conditionality and individualisation of benefit provision so that welfare becomes an effective tool of upward social mobility rather than simply a bureaucratic catch. "Work for your benefit" schemes are Conservative ideas that envisage back-to-work providers motivating their clients back into work by utilising their experience and working on an individual's needs. This level of training will ensure that people do not quickly slip back into the vicious cycle of long-term unemployment and welfare dependency. Clause 4 particularly encouraged me, as it ensures that in case of couples where one is capable of work, he or she must take actions to seek work. He or she should make an effort to seek work. This will engender a sense of responsibility and create a culture of undertaking work. It will be more important if there are children living with them, as the children will be brought up in an environment where a parent is working. Parental responsibility is the ultimate key to tackling broken Britain, as the family unit is the primary institution in our lives.
It is also encouraging to see Part 1 making provision for the voluntary and third sectors to take over the payment of credit to Social Fund customers and in so doing to utilise their welfare support expertise. Therefore, why did the Government state in Committee in the other place that they did not intend to use this power in the near future? I urge noble Lords to push for pilot schemes as soon as possible for Social Fund loans.
However, will the Government, as well as instituting a payments-by-results system with these providers, be building in minimum numbers to get back into work into the contracts between the Department for Work and Pensions and the provider? What will be the limits to claiming out-of-work benefits for those people who may refuse to join a return-to-work programme? For those refusing to accept reasonable job offers on a consistent basis, will there be a punishment such as a requirement to "work for the dole" on community work programmes? When do the Government envisage these regulations being drafted under Clause 2 to detail the workfare schemes?
I, of course, welcome Clause 9 and Schedule 3, which will force drug users to comply with a rehabilitation plan and to undergo drug testing in certain circumstances. It is important that long-term drug use, and its connection with vicious cycles of crime and unemployment, is tackled in a holistic manner. Many long-term drug addicts have spent periods in prison, so will the Minister assure me that there will be links and proper joined-up thinking between those rehabilitation plans in prison and those outside prison?
I welcome Part 2, which will give greater control to disabled people over the provision of their individualised services. I am, however, concerned that Clause 34 places limitations on the individual budget pilot schemes. I urge noble Lords to ensure that the pilots are robust and give an accurate picture of how individual budgets would work in practice. We must also look carefully at Clause 29 to ensure that all relevant services are included in such individual budgets; for example, social care is currently absent from the clause.
Part 3 is important in ensuring that parents live up to their obligations by giving further powers to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission to serve travel disqualification orders. However, we must ensure that such a power is used proportionately and that there are adequate checks on such a strong sanction.
Part 4 deals with birth registration and attempts to ensure that unmarried parents jointly register the birth of their children. We must ensure that the reasons for a father's details not to be registered on a birth certificate are sufficiently robust and we ought to look at grounds for requiring participation in a paternity test. These steps are important in ensuring, where possible, joint parental responsibility in our society and I urge the Government to look at further opportunities to review elements of family law, including other ways of ensuring presumptions of equal parenting in law.
There is massive potential in this Bill and I strongly support most of its provisions. However, we must ensure that the overall correct workfare message of this Bill retains respect for those who simply cannot work. We therefore must make a clear distinction between those who can work and those who cannot physically work. Once this distinction has been made by virtue of a comprehensive needs-based assessment system, we must adopt a brave, individualised, results-based workfare model that makes welfare the catalyst of social mobility as opposed to a vicious revolving door of poverty, crime and paucity of aspiration.
I have quoted William Shakespeare and referred to William Beveridge. I would like to end with a quotation from Samuel Johnson, who said:
"A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization".
My Lords, I am delighted to welcome the Bill to this House. I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for cutting my speech by quoting Mencap's worries about the number of regulations. I hope that that will enable me to stay well within my allotted 10 minutes. Since my earliest days as secretary-general of the Royal Mencap Society in the 1980s, and in my current position as president, the topic of the employment of people with a disability has been fraught with good intentions. Yet making any real progress in terms of opportunities available has seemed frustratingly slow.
That is why I am so pleased that the Government and Her Majesty's Opposition have stated that they are determined to challenge the out-of-date assumption that people with a disability are incapable of working. Ensuring that all those who can work do work is a vital part of the Government's role, and the Bill's vision of personalised support to assist those on benefits into paid employment is very welcome, particularly as a great many people with a learning disability have simply never been given the opportunity to work in paid employment.
However, I am deeply concerned that the worthy intentions of the Ministers will be squandered and that their efforts will prove fruitless unless the Bill makes provision to monitor the impact of these reforms by category of disability and ensures that specialist support to enable access to the jobs market is available to all those who need it. There are 800,000 people with a learning disability of working age in the United Kingdom; yet they are the disabled group most excluded from the workforce. When they do work it is often for very low pay or part-time. People with a learning disability have an estimated employment rate of 17 per cent, compared with 49 per cent of all disabled people and 74 per cent for the working-age population as a whole. Alarmingly, these figures have remained the same for the past decade. That is despite the fact that 65 per cent of people with a learning disability would like to work. There is much evidence to show that people with a learning disability make highly valued employees when given the right support.
Getting people with a learning disability into employment is by no means impossible. Mencap has been doing it for years, beginning as long ago as 1975 in south Wales with our pathway employment service. This scheme quickly expanded with local authorities all over the country adopting the idea. The pathway service is still going strong, having expanded and adapted to present-day conditions. The scheme enables people with a learning disability to get a job which they wish and are able to do, while offering advice and practical help to employers on how best to support their new-found employees in the workplace. The result is success all round—a satisfied employer and a happy and loyal employee.
We all understand that in the current economic climate jobs can be hard to come by even for those without a disability. However, we must not forget that those with a disability are already some of the poorest in our society. Leonard Cheshire estimates that three out of every 10 disabled adults of working age live in poverty and that this is double the rate of people without a disability. Unless this Bill gets it right, we run the real risk that, as the economy picks up, those furthest from the labour market, such as people with a learning disability, will be untouched by these reforms and therefore even worse off than they are at present.
The changes to be brought in under this Bill are many and complex. Yet, the chances to make a difference to people's lives is immense. The Government must make sure that they carefully monitor the impact of these reforms on individuals, each of whom may have a vastly different disability and require vastly different degrees of support. In other words the Government, or at least the providers under instruction from the Government, must examine carefully and closely which categories of disabilities are benefiting from these reforms and which are being left out in the cold. I know that many other charities alongside Mencap support these calls for what the disability sector refers to as increased monitoring by type of impairment.
Perhaps the Minister will be able to state whether he plans to put forward any government amendments that will impose monitoring by impairment group in order to evaluate the success of Flexible New Deal providers in placing people into work. Without analysis of who the new reforms are reaching, the Government will surely fail in their aim of breaking down the barriers to paid work for allpeople with a disability. As we know, once passed, this Bill will give work advisers the power to prescribe unpaid work-related activity, and if those for whom it is prescribed do not partake in it they will face financial penalties. I am deeply concerned that those administering this new system of work-focused interviews, work-related activities and action plans will have little understanding of, or training in, learning disability issues. Such ignorance could see work advisers prescribing an activity which is entirely unsuitable for someone with a learning disability—which should be proscribed rather than prescribed—and which could lead to totally inappropriate and unjust penalties being applied.
I will be very interested to hear what the Minister will do to ensure that providers give their staff full and appropriate training to help them understand the complex issues which may arise when dealing with people with learning disabilities, and that the suggestions and support they offer are entirely appropriate. My fear that specialist support will not be made available is exacerbated by the Government's decision to contract out those employment services using the provider model and payment by results.
The Government's decision to favour the prime provider model, whereby bigger and fewer contracts are awarded to large non-specialist providers, is squeezing expert and niche providers out of the tendering process. The obvious consequence of this is that vital expertise will be lost and tailored support for individuals, such as those with a learning disability, will no longer be available—and this is just as the Government expect large numbers of people with a learning disability to start seeking work.
I am also deeply worried by the Government's rigid payment-by-resultsapproach. Payment by results sounds alarmingly like bonuses paid to errant bankers in the recent credit crunch or like the box-ticking targets which caused such a disaster in the West Midlands at Stafford Hospital. This method would cause the prime providers to concentrate on jobs for those more easily slotted into the labour market, while people who are harder to place—again, such as those with a learning disability—will be left to languish on benefits or, worse, be subject to financial penalties.
Indeed, a report published last year from the Social Market Foundation found that:
"Under the proposed uniform payment structure, those furthest from the labour market will inevitably not be offered services appropriate to their needs—they will be 'parked'. This will occur because the design of the payment system sets the profit motive of contractors in tension with the aim to help all clients. This need not be the case and its effects are in the interests of neither the jobseeker nor the taxpayer".
I know that the Government have indicated that they will consider using an accelerator funding model to guard against this and to ensure that the people furthest from the labour market are not left behind. However, I have to say that the tight timescales that they have set for the procurement of the new specialist disability programme seem to suggest, unfortunately, that they are merely paying lip service to the idea, rather than thinking seriously of implementing such a model. Again, I look forward to the Minister's reply.
I would also be interested to hear whether the Government are planning any type of activity to counter the prejudice and discrimination that people with a disability face when applying for a job. People with a learning disability can make highly loyal and successful employees, and it is the Government's job to get that message across to the public and private sector. However, we cannot expect the disability community to rejoice in punitive measures unless at least they are reassured that Government will comprehensively monitor the impact of these changes and ensure specialist support is available wherever necessary throughout the job application process. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to the comments made today and that we will be able to work together constructively in tabling any amendments which are both improving and vital. My thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for getting me out on time.
My Lords, I welcome the Government's objective of achieving an 80 per cent employment rate for people of working age. I worked on a major national campaign on unemployment in the early 1980s, when we had 3 million people out of work. I remain as committed as ever to employment as the way to well-being and the general improvement of people's lives.
In the past, we have assumed that various groups of disabled people will inevitably spend their lives dependent on benefits. This must be appalling for their sense of self-worth and well-being. We know there are substantial numbers of long-term benefit claimants who would dearly like to work, given the necessary support. To achieve this we need a culture change. In general, I support the rights and responsibilities agenda reflected in this legislation.
Yet I am deeply worried about the likely consequences of this Bill as it stands for many claimants. People with mental health problems—your Lordships will not be surprised I mention them—are the largest single group of people dependent on incapacity benefit or ESA. I focus my comments on this group, though many of them would apply to other groups, particularly those with fluctuating conditions.
Pathways to Work is the means by which people are migrated off incapacity benefit or ESA and helped into work—as all Members of the House now know. The Government have claimed success for Pathways to Work based upon the evaluation of the pilots, which showed an increase in the likelihood of being able to get back to work for people with physical health problems. Yet the main 2008 report by Richard Dorsett showed that this did not apply to those with mental health problems. Reports by Bewley and others show some success for those with mental health problems but the evidence is at least inconsistent. We need to know what kind of support is needed for this group if many of them are to make a successful transition into work. What was it about the subjects in the Bewley studies which accounted for their better outcomes than the more significant study by Dorsett?
We have referred to staffing and staff training on previous occasions. These will be of absolutely critical importance and could make the difference between a quite successful outcome from this Bill and a complete disaster. I understand that there will be fewer resources available in the rollout than were available for the pilots and that training for personal advisers will include at most one day on mental health. Is that correct? I share the Royal College of Psychiatrists' concerns about the feasibility for this group of the requirement to undertake work-related activity, particularly with the low staffing levels and inadequate training which I fear will be the order of the day.
Similar concerns apply to work capability assessments and the requirement to attend a work-focused interview. I feel I am just repeating my own statements but I raised these problems in relation to the 2007 Act and they have not yet been adequately addressed. It is not appropriate to sanction someone who is lying deeply depressed and who is barely aware of the outside world for failing to comply with a requirement, unless there are incredibly strong safeguards. Such a claimant may not have opened a letter warning them of the threat to their benefit. He or she may well not pick up the phone to explain their position. Personal contact by a well-trained personal adviser will be essential if unwarranted hardship is to be avoided. I would be grateful if the Minister could assure me on that.
As the Minister will know, individual placement and support schemes have been shown to be effective in North America and in six European countries. I endorse the view of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, which believes that the main elements of IPS schemes should be adapted to the Pathways schemes for people with mental health problems. Essentially, these schemes recognise that if an employee has mental health problems, not only the employee but the employer or manager will need support. Does the Minister plan to introduce individual placement and support schemes throughout the country in the context of the new Bill?
I was not going to mention the linking rules, but the Minister will not be surprised that I do. Where people have come off incapacity benefit or ESA and have gone into work and then found that they cannot continue, the linking rules enable them to restore their benefits within a two-year period with relatively less bureaucracy. Again, the linking rules still have too much bureaucracy and will not work for people who have mental health problems. One has to recognise that people with these problems simply cannot deal with all the little processes involved in applying for a form, getting it through the post, opening the letter, filling in the form, finding an envelope, going shopping, buying a stamp, et cetera. It is a remarkably complex set of processes, even though to the average person it is quite straightforward. Could a sunrise clause be used to test out a simple restoration of benefit on the basis of a psychiatrist's telephone call or email? I realise this was not done before from a fear of abuse. If one piloted it, my hunch is that the level of abuse would be relatively small and the benefit could be considerable.
Many organisations have expressed concerns about the drugs issue, including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the BMA, Release, Liberty and Drugscope. As others have mentioned, Clause 9 and Schedule 3 contain provisions to increase conditionality on claimants dependent on drugs. To offer help to this excluded group would be welcome. Yet the Government are being unrealistic if they see drug treatment plans as a quick fix. As those of us involved in this sort of work all know, rehabilitation takes years. A very different approach would be needed from that given in the Bill.
One of the problems here is the incongruity between the emphasis in this Bill on drug dependency as a public health problem involving treatment and the emphasis in the Home Office on the idea that these people are criminals. The requirement to declare drug use to the authorities is a particular problem because of this inconsistency in policy across government departments. I would welcome an opportunity to discuss a way forward with Ministers from the two departments.
The Release organisation and others argue, despite assurances from the DWP, that the sanction of drug testing may be in breach of Article 8, the right to privacy, of the ECHR. Sharing information held by the police, the probation service and others is probably in breach of Article 8, too. Also I doubt the efficacy of introducing compulsion in relation to rehabilitation programmes. A number of us heard a cogent presentation by an ex-drug-user explaining the fundamental truth on this issue. Drug misusers have to reach a point at which they are ready to kick the habit. Only then can they be successfully helped. The risk under these conditions and threats is that people will not engage with the benefits system, they will live in even greater poverty and exclusion, and there will be an increased potential for criminal activity in order to survive.
On payment by results, also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, the Royal College of Psychiatrists drew the Government's attention to the report produced by Anu Rangarajan and others which suggests that payment-by-results systems do not work for those who are hardest to place in work. I know that the Government announced in the White Paper a number of ways to deal with the problems of hard-to-place clients, but I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that all the Rangarajan recommendations are being implemented. Again, if not, contracting-out and payment by results could have really quite appalling consequences.
In relation to single parents with children aged three to seven, if the policy is implemented sensitively it could enhance a sense of well-being in some single parents. The prospect of greater independence and contact with the world of work could be very beneficial. However, we will need to explore many of these issues in Committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, alluded most eloquently to some of them. Indeed, I put on the record that I strongly agree with all the points made by the noble Baroness, but I will not repeat them.
Finally, I express my warm welcome for the proposal to introduce the joint registration of the children of unmarried parents. This is an important step towards more equal recognition of both parents. There will be a small number of cases where this is undesirable for the child, and I was pleased to hear the Minister say that such cases will be taken into account. However, the principle of equality between parents in the Bill should, if possible, be retained.
In conclusion, this Bill is full of potential for benefits to individuals and certainly to the taxpayer, but it is also full of dangers for vulnerable claimants. I look forward to the Minister's comments on these issues.
My Lords, the Department for Work and Pensions website tells us that this Bill,
"proposes to reform the welfare and benefit system to improve support and incentives for people to move from benefits into work and contains measures to increase personal responsibility within the welfare system".
These are aims that I very much endorse, but the difficulty that I and many others have is that the Bill also contains a number of measures that appear designed to get into employment what the more excitable sections of the media might term "the work-shy". The Bill has many worthwhile aspects, but the Government might have used it also as a means of overhauling jobseeker's allowance, which has been thrown into sharp focus by the increasing number of people now experiencing unemployment for the first time, and in many cases being shocked to learn that their national insurance contributions qualify them for only £60.50 a week. That is no more than if they had never been in employment, and it also seems that Jobcentre Plus staff are not always equipped to help them find new work.
The Welfare Reform Bill was planned in a period of economic prosperity quite different from where we are today. I would welcome a reform of welfare provision to increase support for those trying to get into the labour market and protect those unable to do so, but it seems that some proposals in this Bill could result in people experiencing even greater poverty. I welcome the Bill's proposals for a full disregard from means-tested benefits of child maintenance and the increase in the Access to Work budget, but it focuses almost exclusively on the responsibilities of individuals without the necessary consideration of the effect on claimants' families or the responsibilities of Government and employers in helping people from welfare into work.
In the present climate, I do not believe that the new conditionality and consequent sanctions are effective ways of supporting more people into work. The evidence shows that if the right support is available at the right time, people will move into, or stay in, work. This is a view shared by campaigning organisations such as Child Poverty Action Group, Gingerbread and Save the Children. CPAG regards "work for your benefit" as workfare, pointing out that the Bill could force people to work for as little as £1.73 per hour, combining current jobseeker's allowance rates with a 35-hour week. The Bill proposes the piloting of "work for your benefit" and would allow for a national rollout without further primary legislation, yet DWP's own research already suggests that there is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high. It is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to work, and it can reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.
Parents with primary childcare responsibility, whether as a lone parent or the partner of a claimant, should have a choice about how they balance paid employment with caring for their children. I believe that the proposals in the Bill constitute an erosion of basic parental rights, but only for parents who are reliant on benefits. This introduces an unfair differential for the poorest families and comes at a time when childcare is already unable to meet current needs, particularly for older and disabled children. The situation is likely to get worse during a recession that is having a negative impact on public, private and voluntary sector childcare services. As noble Lords know, childcare provision varies widely across the UK. Currently, there is only about one childcare place for every 200 children aged 11 to 14. Conditionality is a blunt instrument and I do not think it is acceptable for parents to be forced to put their child into a childcare situation with which they are uncomfortable simply because of the threat of having their benefits reduced. In his summing up at the end of the Bill's Report stage in the other place, the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, Tony McNulty, said:
"I can confirm that parents on JSA will not be sanctioned if they fail to participate in 'work for your benefit' because they cannot access appropriate child care. I said that in Committee and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said it on any number of occasions".—[Hansard, Commons, 17/3/09; col. 829.]
That is a most important statement, but I have to say that it is one which has not yet convinced everyone working for organisations supporting single parents. If my noble friend would repeat that statement today and spell out some of the means by which it will be guaranteed, that would be widely welcomed. The only long-term protection of this fundamental right for parents is for it to exist in primary legislation.
Some of the greatest concerns regarding the impact of this Bill involve single parents. There are 1.9 million of them in the UK, caring for over 3 million children. Single parents have moved into employment faster than any other disadvantaged group over the past 12 years, and 56 per cent are now in paid work. Nine out of 10 single parents say they want to work when it is right for them and their children. Paid employment can help single parents to move out of poverty, but it is not a guarantee. One third of children with a single parent working part-time live below the poverty line. There is little evidence that sanctions are effective in encouraging single parents in the UK to seek employment. In fact, recent Department for Work and Pensions research concluded that their impact was "negligible".
From October 2010, all single parents with children aged seven or over will be required to claim jobseeker's allowance. After 12 months they will be transferred to a private provider under Flexible New Deal provisions, and after 24 months, to work experience schemes. I am concerned that not only is a "work for your benefit" programme inappropriate for single parents and unlikely to lead to improved work outcomes, but that they will form a disproportionate number of its participants.
Single parents are similarly disadvantaged when compared to employment support allowance claimants in the amount they can earn while remaining entitled to means-tested benefits. ESA claimants can earn up to £88.50 without losing access to benefits, enabling them to work in jobs of fewer than 16 hours, at which point they would become entitled to tax credits. But single parents can earn a maximum of just £20, which means that there is no financial incentive for them to work in jobs of between four and 16 hours. As my noble friend Lady Hollis said, in December 2008, some 28 per cent of Jobcentre Plus vacancies were for jobs of less than 16 hours. Enabling single parents to take these up would be a far more effective way of increasing employment levels than additional sanctions, as well as representing a step towards simplifying benefits.
I want briefly to introduce a Scottish perspective to this because the Bill applies throughout the United Kingdom. The proposed legislation does not fully take into account devolved aspects of welfare reform such as the key policy areas of childcare provision and skills development. In particular, the continuing failure of the Bill to take proper account of the distinct legislation on childcare provision in Scotland is of serious concern. The Childcare Act 2006 puts a duty on local authorities in England and Wales to provide sufficient childcare for working parents, but no such legislative duty exists in Scotland. There is a real need for the Government to take account of Scotland's differing institutional framework, enabling a joined-up approach to tackling poverty across the whole of the UK. This point was raised both in Committee and on Report in another place by John Robertson, but he was given an answer by the Minister which more or less said, "It is up to the Scottish Government to sort that out". Ultimately, of course, that is correct, but what happens in the interim?
With the Bill set to impose new obligations on parents who are unemployed, there is particular concern over the lack of high-quality, flexible and affordable childcare, particularly in Scotland. One Parent Families Scotland estimates that more than 50,000 children could be affected by the planned changes. The Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform has also been campaigning vigorously on this issue. They are seeking a delay to the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill's provisions on "work for your benefit" and abolishing income support in Scotland, at the very least until such time as adequate and affordable childcare is in place for all families. There is a precedent for such action because implementation of provisions in the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was delayed in Scotland for four years because removing benefit entitlement was based on alternative care arrangements in England and Wales that were not in place in Scotland. These differences remain today. Irrespective of any legislative changes that may or may not emerge from the Scottish Parliament, can the Minister give an assurance today that more consideration will be give n to this important issue and its potential effects?
The question of skills development is another issue concerning the Bill that has a Scottish dimension. Scotland's Colleges is the umbrella body that represents all 43 FE colleges in the country. They are keen to have an involvement in any pilot schemes that the Government may introduce through regulations after the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. The Bill offers the opportunity for Scotland's Colleges to work with Jobcentre Plus to ensure that claimants will increase their skills through training and gaining recognised qualifications that will enable them to move from the benefits system to sustainable employment. The colleges have a clear role to play in providing long-term solutions to what, in many cases, may have been long-term problems.
Scotland's colleges' wide and well-established expertise means that they should be the first-choice provider for education and training. I hope that the Minister will give a commitment that the primary aim is to have training courses for benefit claimants that are provided by publicly-funded institutions that award universally recognised qualifications. This would enable employers to have confidence in the quality of training and qualifications with the level of skills that potential employees possess as a result.
The next issue to which I wish to refer concerns a letter that I and other noble Lords speaking in this debate received from Sir Richard Tilt, the Social Fund Commissioner. It refers to the question of social loans by external providers and the statutory right of review against those decisions that has been promised by Kitty Ussher, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. I am quite concerned that the Social Fund Commissioner comments in his letter,
"in my view this is not an equivalent standard of redress for service users", because the financial services ombudsman, to whom such individuals will have redress, settles most disputes within six to nine months. The Social Fund Commissioner, Sir Richard himself, says that the independent review service for the Social Fund itself deals with many issues within 12 working days and 88 per cent of urgent crisis loans within 24 hours. It is important that the questions raised by Sir Richard Tilt in his position—he has no axe to grind other than wanting to be as effective as he can in implementing the services of the Social Fund—are addressed. I hope that that is one of the issues that the Minister will be able to address in his remarks.
I close by saying that I believe this is a very important piece of legislation, which has the ability to assist many people in moving from benefits to employment and, once in employment, to assist them in remaining there. It also contains a number of proposals that could have the unintended effect of placing vulnerable people under great pressure and potentially leaving them financially worse off. I hope that, in the Minister's response, and as the Bill goes through its Committee stage, we shall be able to ensure that its effects are overwhelmingly positive.
My Lords, I very much welcome Part 4 of and Schedule 6 to of the Bill. For a number of years I have been trying to persuade successive Governments to recognise the important role that fathers can play in raising their children. I truly believe that more recognition for fathers will lead to more fathers accepting their responsibilities, not only in relation to conceiving children, but also in connection with caring for their child's wellbeing as it grows up. I believe that joint registration is a step in the right direction. What now needs to be made clear and understandable is advice to fathers about what their role and responsibilities are. We all think we know the answer to that. However, there are many, many fathers out there who do not.
I turn now to Part 1 of the Bill. The Government's principal objectives in this part seem to be, first, to save public money and, secondly, to reduce child poverty, both very worthy objectives. They propose to achieve these objectives by getting more parents of school-aged children out into full-time work. Fair enough, but I think there may be unintended consequences for the children in some cases. In 2003 this Government commissioned Charles Desforges to do a literature review on the links between family life and child outcomes in school and in later life. The report lists 151 research papers. The report shows a strong correlation between the quality of family life and a child's outcomes in school and in later life. I should like to quote just one sentence from the summary of that report:
"What parents do with their children at home through the age range is much more significant than any other factor open to educational influence".
I believe we need to improve this Bill to ensure that it does not cheat children of family life, unless it offers them really good alternatives, such as first-class childcare, affordable and available, when and where they need it, and for teenagers activities after school and at weekends and in the holidays. Unless we are careful we are going to end up with many more young children as "latchkey kids" coming home to an empty home at 3.30 pm after school. We are going to end up with more teenagers hanging around on street corners. We are going to end up with many more children alone and unoccupied at weekends and in school holidays. If this Bill is going to succeed in creating a better world and better chances for children, as well as for their parents, the Government must, before they implement its provisions, provide more affordable high-quality childcare. The Government must make their extended day-school programme a reality with safe places for teenagers to go after school and in the holidays; places which offer them activities, which interest and challenge them. I question how these things are going to be done in a recession. But I believe that they must be done if we are not to cheat the children.
The Children and Adoption Act 2006 places as a duty on local authorities in England and Wales, but not in Scotland, to provide sufficient childcare for children of working parents. All the evidence I hear is that this is not happening on the ground, and it is on the ground that it matters.
Can the Minister explain to me why it seems, in the Government's mind, more desirable to pay for institutional childcare and get a parent out to work, rather than to accept the father or the mother's offer to stay at home and look after the child or children? If, for example, it costs £70 or £80 a week to pay for childcare for a child, and you have three children—three sevens are 24—it is £240 a week. Jobseeker's allowance at £70 a week looks like a snip for the taxpayer. I do not understand the arithmetic or philosophy behind it.
Quality childcare alone is not enough. Children need family life. Children need and benefit from parental care and from family life because of the unique bond of love and attachment that exists in nearly every family between parent and child. Parental care and family life are important for a young child's social and emotional development. The rough and tumble of family life can play a vital role in developing a child's social and emotional skills, language skills and building their self-esteem and sense of security and belonging and all the things that go with a lively family life, including having a good laugh together from time to time and a good fight, too. I recognise that there is a small minority of families who fail their children, and they will need special care and help, but in this Bill I am concerned with the majority.
I conclude that families need time together. Time is the currency of relationships. How can time together be achieved against the background of family poverty and employers threatened by recession that we have today? It is a bad time to be advocating these changes.
The realistic solution is to continue, where necessary, to let parents care for their own children when they want to. If the Government want to press forward with Part 1 of the Bill, I shall press in Committee for at least one relatively small amendment to the flexible working provisions of the Employment Rights Act, as amended, to ensure that all parents with young children have at least one full day a week together with their families on days when their children are not at school.
My Lords, the Bill has long been promised by the Government. Perhaps it is just as well that we have not been holding our breath. As always, any proposal for change sets off a flurry of concerns that there will be losers as much as winners. Many of those who have spoken today have expressed their misgivings on the various matters that are of concern to them.
As this is one of the few areas where Westminster has responsibility for legislating for Scotland, it is appropriate that some of your Lordships have received representation from organisations expressing their concerns from the Scottish perspective. One topic that was addressed a few minutes ago by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and raised as an amendment in the other place is the concern about the requirement that those seeking benefit must maintain involvement with a period of training regardless of whether they are trying to cope with children and family responsibilities. It has to be viewed in a different context from the operation of these regulations in England and Wales because there is a duty on local authorities here, under the Childcare Act 2006, to provide the requisite level of childcare. There is no such duty for Scottish local authorities, and in some areas correct care may be lacking. As the Government responded in the other place, the question will be open to interpretation by those allocating the assistance. That is not to say that there may not be areas in England where the proper childcare is lacking and that same discretion might not have to be applied.
The Bill does not go into the levels of support that will be available to get people into work, and it does not address directly the considerable structures that are required to provide the training and job opportunities that are needed. The Minister spoke earlier about the measures that he will use to give work to external providers, and that leads on to my next point. I have received representations from the Association of Scotland's Colleges expressing the hope that its role in providing recognised and transferable skills for the long-term unemployed will be taken into account and given a proper place within the structure of what is being set up. As 20 per cent of the organisation's students come from the most deprived areas, this is certainly of much consequence in Scotland.
About 99 per cent of the colleges' courses have received commendation from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education, which has to be viewed against the sad fact that only 29 per cent of participants in the Government's New Deal scheme have actually been able to find a job. That emphasises that something needs to be done to ensure that training is available, but at the right level and competence, and is related to local needs. The Scottish colleges at present rely on their good relationship with Jobcentre Plus in tailoring their courses to such local needs. There is a hope that this channel could be strengthened under the Bill but, if a part of the aim becomes to reduce or dismantle Jobcentre Plus, there are aspects of that relationship that need to be taken into consideration.
The association thinks that the different needs in the Scottish context might benefit from the formation of a Scottish advisory welfare reform committee, made up of MPs, MSPs and the Scotland Office. Are these issues being addressed separately? Are the Government prepared to give special consideration to this issue? Perhaps one answer could be if the Minister were prepared to take up the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, that one of the proposed pilots should be in Scotland. Does he have any proposals along those lines?
My Lords, we are here today to praise the value of work, but I cannot help remembering that some wit said that if work was such a wonderful thing, surely the rich would have kept it all to themselves.
Looking around, I see that there are many of my colleagues in the House today. We are addicted to work because it keeps us connected to a community that we share values with. I do not think we are so very different from the people I want to talk about: the 40 per cent of those who are receiving what I call "incapacity benefit"—that is, benefit that people with disabilities receive—who suffer from mental health problems. Most of them have just the same attitudes to work that you and I do.
I recognise that it has become very easy for individuals to bottle out of the difficulties and the effort of finding and keeping work, and that has created attitudes that we all deplore. I want, however, to talk about the difficulties that I see in the Bill for those with mental health problems.
I apologise if I repeat a lot of what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has already said. I was not here for her speech because I was called away, but we have discussed this at some length, as is often the case with mental health issues. We may be saying the same thing, so please forgive me if I repeat some of what she said.
Many people who have mental health problems will be suffering from the sorts of mild anxieties and depressions that mean they will benefit from some kind of positive, supportive coercion. If the Bill were administered well, that would help. However, there are a significant number with moderate or severe forms of mental health problems of an episodic or fluctuating nature that should not disbar them from work when they are well—indeed, for whom work can have a positive effect on their long-term well-being. If sensitively planned, a gradual re-entry back to work after an episode of illness can have a beneficial effect on the recovery process. These people make up a huge proportion of the numbers who are currently receiving benefits. If the Bill fails them, it will fail overall.
As well as those people, I also want to talk about the drug-user provisions and the abolition of the Social Fund. At this point I should declare an interest as a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and, therefore, a member of the Mental Health Alliance, with Mind, Rethink and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health.
Overall, the aims of the Bill are laudable—to get a high proportion of those capable into work—and I have no quarrel with the principle of conditionality or with the abolition of benefits that are handed out to people with incapacities and disabilities without an attempt to support them into work. That is all very praiseworthy. As everyone else has said, though, it depends on the regulations and on how they are interpreted by the independent providers that will run these schemes, and that is another matter. You do not need to talk to many mental health patients to realise how extraordinarily unhelpful many local jobcentre offices are. The system is extremely difficult to negotiate in practice unless you are highly competent.
The Bill extends considerable powers to untrained personal advisers—and when I say "untrained", they are certainly untrained with regard to mental health problems—to direct claimants towards work or work-related activities and to impose sanctions. I have looked very hard for evidence that this has worked elsewhere in the world. A study by Meara and Frank in the United States looked at the effects of similar work scheme conditionality, following the wonderfully named Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was focused on women but did not work with women who had poor mental health or moderate to heavy drug and alcohol use. The Minister's search engines may be better than mine, but I would like to know what evidence the proposed policy is based on. I accept that, in effect, this legislation contains a sunset clause which will enable people to review it, but two and a half years on can be chaotic, to say the least.
Let us take, for example, the imposition of sanctions on people who fail to attend a workplace or interview after five working days. It seems unreasonable to expect someone whose life is completely chaotic and who may just have chosen to visit a family member to behave like that. I look for safeguards in regulations, but I find none except those that were in the Welfare Reform Act 2007. Where will the safeguards guidance be?
I am particularly concerned about the training of advisers; I understand they might get a day, or possibly two, of training about mental health difficulties. This is a ludicrously short time, is it not? Can the Minister provide us with any convincing plans to show that the Government means to take the training of advisers seriously in respect of mental health problems, drug and alcohol use, and learning disabilities? The advisers will, of course, be employed by the private agencies contracted for the work. I would like, as many others have said, to know how the Government will monitor the efficacy of the various contracts in relation to not only those with mental health problems but also other groups that this legislation is intended to help.
Clause 9 and Schedule 3, which relate to drug misuse, are profoundly worrying. They affect not only those who are currently dependent drug and alcohol misusers but also those with a "propensity" to misuse drugs. As for a propensity to misuse alcohol, I should think that that relates to quite a number of people in this House. Who does not have a propensity? The wording is extraordinary, because it covers such a wide range of people with a history, or with no history, but a suspicion. It includes a whole range of intrusive provisions: compulsory drug testing, compulsory attendance for treatment, and the sharing of information—which I think might be medically confidential—between police, probation officers and jobcentres. Yet the system is likely to be totally counterproductive and drive more drug misusers underground, and there is no evidence that it will work.
Drug and alcohol misuse are complex, fluctuating and episodic. Every user has a different set of issues and problems. Coerced declaration of drug use, the imposition of conditionality and enforced tests and attendance at treatment in exchange for benefits seem to me to be at least morally offensive, if not actually a breach of human rights. I am not a human rights lawyer but, I hope, a practical doctor. It seems strange that drug and alcohol use have been excluded time and time again from compulsory provisions in mental health Acts. It is known to be utterly counterproductive to coerce people into treatment in this manner, largely because there is no effective treatment unless the individual is committed to sticking with it. I am sure there will be a lot more to say about that in Committee.
I turn to the Social Fund, which is to be administered by external contractors. I do not like the Social Fund; grants were a lot better, but I realise that they were open to abuse. However, at least there is an independent review service with the current Social Fund. Small amounts of money are provided and you get an answer within a few weeks. It is proposed that dissatisfied folk should go to the Financial Services Ombudsman, who is going to take a long time. It seems like an enormous sledgehammer to crack a nut, just to redress minor complaints. Surely we can come up with a better system than that.
Finally, I return to people with mental health problems and why they do not work. I dare say other people have mentioned these figures. We know that 60 per cent of employers will not knowingly employ someone with a history of mental illness; 75 per cent will not contemplate taking on somebody with a history of schizophrenia. I do not blame employers for this: I understand why they do not. It is not simply poor understanding and discrimination, but also the fear that people will work for a short time and then go, and so on. We need is a shift in employers' attitudes, created by incentives, to support people through the earlier times of recovery and employment. What schemes do the Government feel there could be to encourage employers to take on this group and thereby make these provisions work more effectively?
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I give a cautious welcome to this Bill, with its aim to achieve an 80 per cent employment rate. My caution is not because of the aim but because, as many other noble Lords have explained, aspects of the Bill suggest that full consideration has not been given to the practicalities and realities that result from the measures that are being proposed. I have to admit that, on reading the Bill, I had an awful suspicion that some of it may have been motivated by lurid stories in the media about people who have been defrauding the system.
It is said that soldiers can only think in threes. To prove that that is absolutely correct, I have three points to make, two of which have already been more than adequately covered by my noble friends Lord Rix, Lady Meacher and Lady Murphy, as one would expect with their expertise. The third one has been briefly touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.
I declare an interest as an adviser to the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. Three years ago, the centre very deliberately embarked on a complete change of tack and set out to study two things: first, the treatment and care of those with mental health problems in prison; and, secondly, the problems faced not only by prisoners but also by other people with mental health problems in obtaining employment. The centre is about to publish an interim report on what it has learnt about the problems in finding employment.
One of my great disappointments as Chief Inspector of Prisons was when the then Minister of Prisons stopped me writing a report on what I called "minorities"—those from black and minority ethnic communities, children, the disabled, the elderly and the mentally disordered—on the ground that he did not want me to deal with race. I said, "If you are not going to deal with race, I cannot cover all the minorities, because they all have to be treated in the same way".
It is important that, in considering this Bill, we do not forget the subset of the children, the mentally disordered, the elderly and the disabled who are in prison and who face double jeopardy, first, because of the lack of treatment while they are in prison and, secondly, because of the problems that they face on being reintegrated into society when they come out. Therefore, I very much hope that any of the provisions in this Bill are taken on board by the Ministry of Justice in determining how it should treat people in those categories who are in its care.
I do not wish to say any more about people with mental health problems because that issue has been more than adequately covered by my noble friends. But I emphasise most strongly my concern about the lack of skill that is likely if we have personal advisers with inadequate training for dealing with these people. In fact, wrong or inadequate guidance can often be far more dangerous than no guidance at all. It is not something with which we can dabble. Going back to my prison experience, I was horrified to find when I started inspecting in 1995 that there were virtually no people with any form of psychiatric training to deal with a population of whom 70 per cent had some form of identified personality disorder to start with. The people doing that work were struggling and appealing for help to enable them to do the job. I suspect that that is exactly what will happen when these personal advisers are given responsibilities to work with people whom they do not understand; they will be asking for help to do the tasks that they have been given.
The report by Liberty, which has already been mentioned, raises the question whether the drug provision in Clause 9 may be in breach of the Human Rights Act. It goes on to suggest that the clause is flawed in conception, intrusive, unnecessary and counterproductive. I declare an interest as chairman of the Cross-Party Group on Drug and Alcohol Treatment and Harm Reduction. I am concerned that the provisions in this Bill are all against the inclinations and realities of dealing with people with drug problems, as other noble Lords have mentioned. When I look at the people in the hands of the probation service—240,000 of them—at least two-thirds are drug dependent, 84 per cent have the literacy level of an 11 year-old or less and the vast majority are already unemployable. Before launching these measures, are the Government satisfied that all the resources to deal with these vast numbers are there? Until and unless the resources are in place, it is totally pointless to introduce these measures in the Bill.
What do I mean by "resources"? Have the Government thought through and made arrangements for what is most likely to happen? A sizeable proportion will fail to turn up for their assessment, for which they will be prosecuted and their benefits taken away. How do they then survive? Has provision been made for the increased numbers of assessors and monitors required? Have the Government made plans to satisfy the inevitable demand for residential and non-residential treatment places? Unless these requirements are satisfied before the measure is introduced, the Government risk making the present situation worse rather than better because they will be forcing people into crime.
That is not to say that something should not be done to tackle the problem of substance abuse, but this is not best done by an isolated clause in a Bill on welfare reform. The solution to the drug problem requires dramatic changes to the law, consideration of prevention and the whole question of prohibition and the recognition that addiction is an illness liable to relapse. I shall be thinking seriously about recommending that the clause do not stand part of the Bill until something is done that I recommend to the Minister and that I hope will happen.
At the beginning, the Minister mentioned the fact, which I applaud, that the Bill had been helped by meetings that he had had with the RNID and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and her disability group. I hope that the same will apply to the clauses dealing with mental health and drug takers. There will be plenty of people willing to take part in such constructive discussion to make certain that the opportunity presented by this Bill is not wasted. A great deal of work needs to be done on this Bill but, as I said at the start, I join all those who have given it a cautious welcome. I look forward to contributing in any way that I can. My caution is not about the aim but about the various measures dealing with different parts of society that I believe need considerable attention.
My Lords, as we are only too aware, the Welfare Reform Bill arrives with us at a time of deepening recession when many disabled people fear losing their jobs and their homes. On top of labour market discrimination, educational inequalities and media hostility, the 2.8 million claimants of incapacity benefit must also now contend with shrinking employment opportunities and a harsher benefits regime.
The Government have many sound plans in place to help this country through the recession and they are pumping money into back-to-work support. I strongly welcome the future increases planned for the Access to Work budget and the announcement that the scheme will apply to work trials of up to six weeks. It would be even more helpful if the scheme were rolled out to disabled people who choose voluntary work as a path to skills development and future paid employment, and to those with fluctuating conditions who need the security of funding to cover absences from work, among other things. Will my noble friend tell me the department's thinking on this?
I believe that we need to do more to help disabled people through the recession. The last time the UK economy was in recession, many people living with long-term health conditions or impairments became lifelong recipients of incapacity benefit. They lost confidence in their abilities and in any hope of working. The talents of hundreds of thousands of disabled people were wasted, which must not happen again.
The Welfare Reform Bill is a chance to put in place a truly enabling welfare system that frees disabled people from the bureaucracy and the culture of low expectations that have held back so many for so long. We need a welfare system that addresses what are very real barriers to work and which equips disabled people with the enhanced skills, qualifications and confidence to plan for a future career. I fear that the Bill may be something of a missed opportunity in this regard. It will do nothing to remove barriers to work, such as the lack of access to portable social care support, or ridiculous benefits disincentives, such as the 16-hour rule in working tax credit. Nor is there a right to employment support, which remains at the discretion of DWP. I cannot tell what the Bill will do to support people to update skills and qualifications—a vital component of our future economic success.
While large private sector providers will doubtless benefit from increased contracting-out of services, parking those deemed hardest to help, smaller voluntary sector providers are offered just a limited role. My own organisation, Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability, has an impressive track record of effectively supporting disabled people furthest from the labour market into sustained employment. I hope that my noble friend will recall that he kindly spoke at its event for local employers last year. HAFAD has had to cut back most of its employment project staff for lack of funding. I strongly urge the Minister to look at the funding available for user-led organisations providing back-to-work support and to ensure that people on ESA or JSA can readily access their services, which is vital.
The Bill's one potential jewel in the crown is, as we have heard, Part 2 on the right to control, but as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, that has yet to be amended to reflect the great aspirations set out in the White Paper which preceded this Bill. It needs to reflect the White Paper's real commitment to self-directed support, to full choice of how resources are managed and to the aspiration to remove fragmentation from people's lives. The Government might consider adding another jewel by adapting the proposal for a claimants' charter, setting out clearly how disabled and other claimants can expect to be treated by Jobcentre Plus and external employment support providers, along with an employment services ombudsman to arbitrate when claimants are treated unfairly. This would be an inspiring addition to the Bill and would draw heavily on the draft already proposed by Citizens Advice, CPAG, Disability Alliance and Gingerbread, which is widely supported across the disability movement.
Their proposed charter covers the rights of claimants to be treated with dignity and respect, provision of accessible information for claimants about the conditions of their benefits claim, as well as the consequences of failing to meet those conditions, and access to services which will improve their ability to enter good quality, sustainable work and much more. Given the ever-increasing complexity of the benefits system, we need to offer claimants the added security and clarity of such a charter. I also believe we should heed the Disability Benefits Consortium's call for a right of appeal against work-related activity directions and for a revision of Clause 1 so that it does not allow a system of forced labour on a fraction of the minimum wage but provides an empowering opportunity to gain valuable skills doing a job of one's own choosing.
I hope that Ministers will be in listening and acting mode as the Bill proceeds through the House and that the major expertise of the disability movement will be drawn on to make this a Bill which is truly transformative for disabled people and for our economy.
My Lords, unlike the Minister, I am not sure whether this is the right time for Part 1 of this Bill to be considered. As others have said, the economic climate is far from encouraging, and unemployment is rising rapidly while job vacancies are falling. While I entirely agree with the Government that no one should be allowed to exploit what we euphemistically call "the system"—in reality our tax-paying citizens—I cannot see the benefit of expending vast amounts of money and time on pretending to make a small group of vulnerable people supposedly fit for work. It is as though the Government's reform policies must proceed like some huge juggernaut, crushing all that gets in its way and ignoring the collateral damage. It is wrong to push these changes through at a time when the social security system is already extremely stressed. Passing the buck to the private sector is unlikely to be a solution.
My noble friend Lady Meacher spoke passionately for the mentally ill. I declare my interest as chairman of Forward-ME and as patron of a number of CFS/ME charities which represent people with chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis. These people suffer from symptoms of fluctuating frequency and severity. Gulf War illness, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome are some of the others. With regard to CFS/ME itself, this illness has been defined as a neurological disease by the World Health Organisation and the level of disability it causes has been compared with congestive heart failure, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic conditions.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I am beginning to feel like the proverbial gramophone record; or should that be a CD? The majority of people with CFS/ME want to work. In a recent national consultation with 1,162 ME sufferers and their carers, entitled No one written off: problems and potential solutions for people affected by chronic fluctuating conditions, one of the respondents wrote:
"The Government seem to think people actually LIKE to live their lives on benefits. The genuine claimants don't want to be on benefits but have no choice".
Another asks a question which is pivotal to this Bill:
"How many employers realistically would be flexible enough to accommodate a gradual entry (or re-entry) into the workplace if a healthy equally well qualified person also applied for the vacancy? You'd appoint the healthy person, wouldn't you?"
I ask the Government—how many employers will employ a person who is able to do perhaps one or two hours a day or one or two hours a week and may not, even then, be reliable? Where is the research that shows these measures will work? I also suggest that this constructive report should be essential reading for all DWP and agency staff who might be dealing with claimants suffering from this condition. It is short, clear and contains many helpful suggestions.
Despite the growing body of evidence that these illnesses are biomedical, there is still a school of thought that they are psychosocial behavioural conditions and that they can be overcome with firm handling, a course of cognitive behaviour therapy and graded exercises. It is apparent that this view still prevails in the DWP. This is so despite Ministers' repeated assurances that they and the Department for Work and Pensions' employees and agents fully agree with the Department of Health statement that they,
"accept the World Health classification of CFS/ME as a neurological condition of unknown cause", and that they also accept that,
"CFS/ME is a genuine and disabling illness and can have a profound effect on those living with the condition".
If this is the case, why is it that I still get letters from acutely distressed people with CFS/ME who are being hounded by the DWP to attend interviews and who are threatened with loss of benefits if they do not comply with the regulations? This Bill compounds the problems that have emerged from last year's welfare reforms. The language is harsh, the sanctions punitive and the rule inflexible. It appears that decision-makers will use subjective rather than objective measures as a basis for their plans. If a person looks all right, as many people with CFS/ME do, it is likely that they will be considered well enough to work. Past experience has shown that, no matter what the claimant tells the decision-maker or what his medical notes indicate, a claimant with a fluctuating condition is likely to be,
"directed to undertake a specific work-related activity in certain circumstances".
The Minister spoke about eliminating discrimination. To quote again from the report:
"As the model of illness implicit in existing DWP practice and the in the proposed reforms makes no allowance for chronic, varying and relapsing illnesses, it institutionally discriminates against such conditions. The fact that people with ME cannot readily convey the reality of their illness experience on existing assessment forms or in early assessment interviews shows that, from the first interaction, such illnesses are discriminated against".
Like my noble friend Lord Rix, I am worried that there is no indication in the Bill of the level of training that will be required of the advisers and decision-makers or, if they are to be supplied by contract with the private sector, what practical and ethical checks will be made on their decisions. What understanding will they be expected to have of these fluctuating conditions or of the likely effect of a wrong decision on the health of the claimant? Is the Minister able to enlighten me?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, spoke powerfully for rural inhabitants. As a rural inhabitant, I am sympathetic and I heartily support everything she said. There are several other parts of the Bill about which I am concerned, but I will not delay your Lordships any longer. I look forward to the next stage with interest.
My Lords, with leave of the House, perhaps I may speak in this gap. I am sorry I was not present earlier. I understand that the list was curtailed and a number of noble Lords did not speak. As I was in the Library, I was unaware of that.
It is reassuring to hear that the Government do not wish to create a welfare state that punishes people. I hope that sentiment underlies this Bill as it travels through the House. It is right that steps should be taken to assist people back into work and I respect the Government's concern about the effects of long-term unemployment. Sigmund Freud said that there are two elements essential to a fulfilled life: work and love. While the Government may have problems legislating for love, Governments can do things about work—or, at least, they can help people to acquire the skills needed for work.
People's lives are blighted when there is long-term unemployment, especially where that is intergenerational. If no one in a household has known work for many years, the habits and rhythms of work are outside a whole family's experience. The inevitability of depression and other mental illnesses, of alcoholism and drug dependency, of poor health and school performance, of the inability to establish sound social relations—or the sheer inability to structure life out of chaos—and the drift into crime, which I see so often in the courts, is utterly wretched and so damaging for us all. That is not life as it should be lived in a decent society.
The solution to such problems lies in an amalgam of responses; I want to echo those who pointed out that this Bill was conceived before the full nature of the recession was understood. Many people who are losing their jobs will flood the labour market, anxious to secure new employment. They will be singularly more suitable for the prospective employer than many others who have intransigent problems, so I really hope that we invest in training.
I should like to consider particularly the issue of women. First, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who provided us with a master class on why the new arrangements in the Bill will not work for single parents, who will remain trapped in a requirement to work that will bring no reward. It must be easy to design a fair, graduated system to allow a lone parent to build up her involvement in the world of work, as her children become older and she gains self-esteem. There are, however, two other matters relating to the single parent that concern me, particularly where she has experienced domestic violence.
First, when the United States Government enacted welfare reform proposals in 1996, they specifically took the needs of women who had experienced violence into account by creating what was called a family violence option. It allowed individual states,
"to create provisions in their welfare plans to respond to the needs of victims of domestic violence with special programs and alternative services and to excuse them from the standard work or other requirements, as necessary".
I fear that the discretion given to those who work within the Jobcentre Plus scheme to grant an additional month's exclusion from the requirement to search for work will not be enough. Can the Minister consider whether that could not be extended? Research conducted in 2008 by Gingerbread and Family Action has shown just how hard it is for women who leave a situation of domestic violence; often, they have traumatised children and are having to reconstruct their lives, having lost their self-esteem. They are going to need more than a month's good grace. I hope, then, that this Government will introduce some specific exclusion from the requirement to seek work for those who have been forced to leave home due to domestic violence. It should be of at least three months, and I hope that the Minister will commit to it.
Secondly, I am concerned about the joint registration of births because, while it is right to be enthusiastic about the idea that fathers should be on the birth certificate and take responsibility for their children, that can also be a real source of trauma to the mother in a situation with domestic violence—especially when there is a requirement to have registration immediately after birth. That is not the best time to put such stress on the shoulders of a battered woman. We are asking the Government to consider this: in the limited number of cases where a father seeks to put his name on a birth certificate and the mother raises the concern of harm to herself, or to her child, if the unmarried father really wants his name there, the burden should fall on him to pursue that application for parental responsibility via the family court, where there should be the opportunity for proper scrutiny.
Those are the two matters that I raise in the brief moments allowed to me in the gap. I hope that the Government will take them seriously, for they have a very good record on dealing with the issue of domestic violence—and Ministers in this House have played an important role in reform. What we need, however, is a read-across into other ministries, and I hope that the Government will amend the Bill to meet these concerns.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. She made the most of her shortened contribution, but it was concise, powerful and very relevant. We have had a good debate. All of the points that were advanced to me as matters of concern by the pressure group community out there have, I think, been properly and adequately covered.
It seems to me that the over-riding theme of the afternoon was concerned as much with implementation as with aims. My noble friend Lady Thomas—I am trying to get the quote correct—was right when she said that how it proceeds determines what it will achieve. That is what really concerns us; there is no argument about any of the principles. Some things that came through in the debate recognised that there are vulnerable citizens who really need to be accommodated in the regulations that come from this legislation. That is against the background not just of vulnerable families but of those faced with the difficult financial circumstances that we can all see ahead. That powerful theme came through in a number of colleagues' speeches.
Staff training also came through to me as something that was genuinely and appropriately concerning people. Dealing particularly with mental illness and such issues, there have of course been increased departmental expenditure limits to deal with some of that, and people will be getting trained up. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, rightly said, inadequate advice is almost worse than none at all. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing when you are dealing with drug addicts and such disadvantaged groups, so staff training is something that the Minister and the Government will need to think about as the Bill goes forward in Committee.
I do not know whether any of my colleagues managed to read the actual report produced by Professor Paul Gregg, which he prefaced with a personal statement. You do not need to read the whole report, which was subtitled A Vision for Personalised Conditionality and Support. The first paragraph of the professor's statement makes it clear what he was trying to do with regard to the change in how benefits are being provided. The Minister found that in the fact that some of his methods for introducing the new benefit regime came as ideas from that report. However, if you read his report carefully, as I have done, you get a very different flavour and tone on the emphasis between the balance of support and conditionality. I shall illustrate it with the second sentence of the professor's personal statement:
"In addition, and central to this Review, it should where possible give a voice to the claimant in designing support services".
Now, that is not the tone of phase one of the Bill. People will need to take their own views on it, but I suggest that they need only to read that first page.
However, the recommendations by Professor Gregg are also instructive; one of them—which we do not much hear the Government talking about—was that we should have a review of conditionality. He said that there should be a general review of sanctions in relation to the rest of the benefit system, to the hardship scheme that has now been in place for some years and, indeed, in relation to the sanctions and deductions of benefit that have been causing concern to some of us for some time. To try and characterise phase one as a fruit, or a direct read-across, of the work that Professor Gregg did is wrong. That has the wrong balance, and some of the emphasis that the report contains on empowering the claimant, rather than giving extra powers to the department, will, I hope, instruct the work of the Committee as we go through the further stages.
I was interested that the Minister also talked about the abolition of income support. I wrote down the relevant sentence—I think that I have this right—in which he said, "Once there is no one left to claim it, we will close it down", or words to that effect. Why on earth are the Government taking powers to abolish a benefit when people will be claiming income support for years? They will be claiming income support until carers are dealt with properly. That will take some time and we will hear what the Government have to say about that later in the year. That will still leave lone parents with younger children claiming income support, so why is the relevant clause in the Bill at all? In my view it is a prospective power that the Government will not make use of for five or six years. It is bad legislation to include such powers that the Government are not actively considering using, and I believe that they are not. That is bad and Parliament should look very carefully at giving powers of that kind against that background, if my analysis is right.
It will help the Minister's case if in Committee he tries to get across to us what resources are now available and what capacity constraints there are in Jobcentre Plus. It would be better if we knew the unvarnished truth about that. I study these things as closely as anybody—at least I try to do so—and, as regards the money that is flowing in from the Pre-Budget Statement, the recently announced Budget, and from past announcements, you do not know whether it is all to be spent through DEL-AME, through this CSR or whether it will start in 2011-13. It is very difficult to answer the question: how much new resource is going into Jobcentre Plus that will be available to personal advisers to help the client groups that this Bill is about? I am not an accountant but the Minister is. There must be some way of disentangling the smoke and mirrors that I think surround this question. If I could be persuaded that this is all new money that will be used constructively and will be made available for customer and client support, I would look at the Bill, particularly Part 1, with a less jaundiced eye, if I can put it that way. I suggest to the Government Front Bench that it would be helpful to be told what is new money and what is old money, and exactly what capacity will be available. Will Jobcentre Plus have personal advisers with a sufficiently high level of qualification to discharge the responsibilities that the Bill will give them? That is a very important point.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, rightly talked about the regulations, at which we need to look. The point that my noble friend Lady Thomas made on super affirmative procedures was very much on the money. The super affirmative procedure is a specialist statutory instrument that is published in draft, made available and is amendable. It is not subject just to affirmative or negative procedure. We should consider that procedure for some of the key aspects of this Bill. Enabling primary legislation is always difficult but enabling primary legislation that produces pilots makes it very difficult to know where you are at any given moment. I hope that my noble friend's good suggestion will be taken up.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, made a powerful plea on behalf of lone parents. We shall need to return to that matter in detail. I concur with her view on transport. It is a perfectly natural thing for me to be concerned about, given that I come from south-east Scotland. However, I have been concerned about it for some years. I also share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, about the interface between Scotland and the rest of the country. It is not just childcare and drug rehabilitation regimes that are substantially different in their application. Child development grants and Sure Start schemes which are now becoming freely available in England are not on the radar screen or in contemplation at any stage in Scotland. In providing national legislation, the Government should not assume that conditions are the same in all parts of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, made a very powerful point, as he always does in his own home territory, but the thing which really came across to me was his reference to "creaming and parking", as it is known in the trade. People who suffer disadvantage such as illness need better support than they have at the moment. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made an important point about linking rules, which have been with us for some time. I acknowledge that they have improved; the two-year period is an improvement. However, I believe that we should offer people who genuinely suffer from intermittent conditions a guarantee that their benefits will be protected for a two-year period. There may need to be a reconciliation after that period if they win the pools or start writing books and making lots of money; otherwise, the taxpayer could lose substantially in certain circumstances. I think that is unlikely, but such a safeguard should be made available. A mechanism must be available—I know that the Treasury would not like it—to provide absolute comfort for a year or two years to people who are taking that first step of going out of the door and into work for the first time. They also need support after they have started their first job and their employers need support. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, made an important point on that. Employers need help. The Government's work trials, job introduction schemes, local employment partnerships and access to work schemes are positive measures but they need to be reinforced. The Government need to hold employers' hands, as it were, to ensure that this matter is tackled effectively. I have just remembered that I should have declared at the beginning of my speech that I am a non-remunerated, non-executive director of the Wise Group in Glasgow. I had better say that; otherwise, I could get into trouble.
This Bill is worth fighting over. I do not like it as it stands. The first part is a mess. However, the second part is excellent. We heard an excellent speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. If she would like any further speeches read out in the House, I volunteer to do so any time she likes. As I say, Part 2 is excellent and I look forward to hearing noble Lords speak on it who know more about it than I do. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that Part 3 is a try-on by CMEC. The Minister should have insisting on waiting two years—a decent period—before this was proposed. Unless there is new evidence, the Minister will be in for a difficult time because the cavalry in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, will appear over the horizon, as he did last year, and sweep all before him. The Minister should not look forward to that unless he has some pretty valid new evidence that justifies bringing back these clauses; otherwise, it will be a try-on by CMEC.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, as even with his jaundiced eye he spots smoke and mirrors. Second Reading debates are usually interesting. The runners and riders walk the course prior to hurdling in Committee, and the mood of the House on a Bill is made clear. I expect that the Minister is pleased with this evening's debate, which has been very interesting. We have heard a wide range of viewpoints from noble Lords on all sides of the House, who have shown formidable expertise on the subject of welfare reform. I echo my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, who welcomed the Bill.
It is clear from listening to the debate that, irrespective of whether noble Lords support all the aims of the Bill, no one is arguing for the retention of the status quo. For 12 years, the Government have talked time and again about the need for serious reform of the welfare system in this country, but time and again they have shrunk from doing what is needed.
That may not be wholly surprising because this is a daunting field and it is inevitable that change will upset certain people, no matter where or how it happens. Nevertheless, it has been painfully apparent for too long that the social security system is a cumbersome, ineffective and costly edifice. The Government should have acted before now, and even though they have finally roused themselves to tackling some of these issues, it is the view of these Benches that the proposed measures in the Bill do not go far enough. However, we are where we are, and it seems to me, from listening to the mood of the debate, that the Minister will find readier support for some of his proposals on these Benches than elsewhere, including from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who sits on the Benches behind him. However, much of the opinion in the debate has been, like our own, generally supportive of this Bill. We are likely to have a lively Committee stage as noble Lords examine the details.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester. It is good to know that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, knows the names of his noble friends and where they are. We share some, but not all, of the noble Baroness's reservations. It was particularly good to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. I am sure in Committee we will see further development of the reservations she expressed about the absence of social care within the scope of personal control provisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, spoke with her usual commitment to the interests of disabled people. I do not agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. It was good, as always, to hear his contribution, and we all understand why he wished to leave early, but however difficult the current situation—a number of noble Lords mentioned this point—that is no reason to drag one's feet and delay the Bill. Indeed, there are good arguments for doing the opposite, as my noble friend Lord Sheikh pointed out so well, and we look forward to his involvement in Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, always makes high-value contributions, and it was useful to hear her view that sanctions against lone parents may be counterproductive. I suspect that she and the noble Baronesses, Lady Murphy and Lady Meacher, will be properly vocal in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, showed how singular any one person's needs are and the real, rewarding effort that is needed to support those with learning difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was powerful in pointing out that there is a potential conflict between the demands of work and the importance of family life. My noble friend the Duke of Montrose was articulate as always in bringing Scottish concerns to the Bill, as was the noble Lord, Lord Watson. The noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Ramsbotham, also emphasised the skills that personal advisers will need. Can the Minister confirm that the purpose of having sub-contractors is so that they can bring these talents to this process? The noble Countess, Lady Mar, pointed out the particular challenge in dealing with the problems faced by those with chronic sickness. The debate was fortunate not to have lost the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. She joined the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, in drawing your Lordships' attention to the particular interests of women, and I hope that the noble Baroness will raise her points on registration in Committee.
My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale gave a succinct but thorough run-through of the issues in the first three parts of the Bill, so I will turn my attention to Part 4, on birth registration. This part contains just one clause, which is largely unobjectionable. Indeed, it is a perfect clause in its brevity and straight purpose. It simply applies Schedule 6. Unfortunately, Schedule 6 has much more detail in it—some 13 pages. The schedule proposes compulsory joint birth registration for parents who are unmarried. I understand that at present just 7 per cent of all births—about 45,000 children—are registered solely.
We support the principle of joint registration; it is in the interests of a child that both parents be recorded. However, I am puzzled by the drafting of the schedule. It seems from the caveats and exemptions in the Bill that registration will be more a voluntary exercise than a compulsory one. I do not see why a father should not be registered as the father of his child because the mother says she does not know his whereabouts. It is one thing for her to say that she does not know who the father is, but quite a different one for her to simply deny knowing his present whereabouts. He is still the child's father, even if he is hard to track down. In another place, the Government argued that the lack of an address meant that there would be administrative difficulties. I do not dispute that, but the Bill makes clear that:
"No information relating to the father is to be entered in the register because it is given by the mother".
The Bill defeats the Government's argument. There is a difference between the duties of the registrar and the obligations of the mother. Surely the rights of the child to know at least some details of his parentage should trump administrative inconvenience.
Another matter in the schedule has been raised as a concern. The Bill makes provision for those mothers who do not wish to register the name of their child's father because she has reason to fear for her safety if he were to be contacted. Gingerbread and others have voiced concern that this will do nothing to protect vulnerable mothers in cases where the father himself volunteers to register. We are dealing with very vulnerable, often young and disadvantaged women and their newborn children. One might, with good reason, say that we should not confuse the issue of registering a child with the separate issue of protecting vulnerable families from abuse and violence. However, it is clearly an area where we must exercise caution and good judgment, and I am sure many noble Lords intend to do just that when we debate this more fully in Grand Committee. I accept that the Government have tried to strike a balance here. I am not yet convinced that they have struck the correct balance, and the Opposition will be laying amendments in Grand Committee to allow us to debate the matter further.
At the prompting of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, who noble Lords will know is a fan of sunset clauses, we follow the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, in feeling that pilots should have sunset clauses attached to them, as opposed to the super affirmatives proposed by his noble friend Lady Thomas of Winchester. I think that will be our general approach as we progress through the next stage. There are questions about the details of the implementation of the Government's proposals which must be asked about; there are nooks and crannies in the Bill to explore and facts and figures yet to be teased out. That is what your Lordships' House is for. Whether one supports or opposes the Bill, I feel confident that through our joint efforts we will improve it.
I finish where I started. The Opposition are broadly behind the Government on the Bill. There is much to be done before we can allow this Bill to become an Act, but it is vital for the well-being of thousands of individuals and families across the country—probably more so in these difficult times—that we embark on the reform of the welfare system.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am grateful for their excellent and informed contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that I should be pleased with the tenor of the debate, as I am, but it is right to say that the broad direction of these provisions has widespread support, although I acknowledge that there are concerns about some elements, particularly delivery. I look forward to Committee stage.
A whole range of questions have been asked. I shall try to deal with as many as I can today and I am sure that in Committee we shall pick up the rest. I start with the regulation-making powers. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, mentioned them, as did others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. It is right to say that the Bill is a framework Bill; much of the detail of the Bill will be in secondary legislation. Of course, these reforms are pioneering and they will allow us to test what works best. There is some merit in having flexibility around the processes so that we can see what delivery works best. Where we have draft regulations, I can assure noble Lords that I shall make them available and, where we do not, I shall provide, as honourable friends provided in another place, a dossier of information relating to the secondary legislation when we reach Committee stage. I hope that that will assist our deliberations.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who unfortunately is not in his place—we well understand why—started by asking whether this is the right time for these proposals. There were some mixed views, but most believed that it is right to drive them forward now. In my view, that is absolutely right. That was illustrated by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. We know that people with learning disabilities are a long way from the labour market in many respects, but we would leave them further behind if we did not proceed with these provisions now.
Like others, the right reverend Prelate asked whether this is about saving money. That is not the thrust of the proposals. It is about learning from the mistakes of the past so that we do not consign people to benefits and give them no support. We as a society and they as individuals with families suffer from that still.
The issue of resources was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, who asked whether we would close down Jobcentre Plus offices in Scotland. I shall reiterate the resources that have been made available in recent times. The PBR, in November 2008, provided an additional £1.3 billion to ensure that over the following two years Jobcentre Plus and providers could be properly resourced, given the increases in throughput. That enabled an additional 6,000 staff. There was an additional £100 million-worth of employment-focused provision aimed at the newly unemployed. We have doubled the funds for the rapid response service. In the Budget 2009, a few weeks ago, an additional £1.7 billion was provided for Jobcentre Plus as well as something like £1 billion for the future job fund. It is right to focus on that—resources are going in.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth asked who determines who is capable of work. As is the case now, the work capability assessment will be carried out by a medical practitioner. The WCA determines whether someone has limited capability for work and whether they should receive ESA or go on to JSA. The final decision on benefit entitlement is carried out by a civil servant.
I shall touch briefly on the child maintenance proposals. I understand that they now have the support of the Conservative Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, spoke firmly about them and said that the provisions had to be used proportionately. That is absolutely right. The provisions about withdrawal of driving licences or passports are right at the end of the chain of sanctions held by the commission. As I said, I hope that their existence will act as a deterrent.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was a little unclear about the various age groups operating within the Bill. We said the age of seven, but do we mean six or five or whatever? Let me be clear that we are dealing two groups. There is the progression-to-work group, where proposals will be focused on lone parents with children between the ages of three and six. We also have the routine JSA approach, which covers the work-ready group. Progressively, we will move lone parents away from income support to jobseeker's allowance. By next October, I think, jobseeker's allowance, with a full conditionality regime, will operate for lone parents whose youngest child is aged at least seven.
A number of noble Lords spoke about the right to control. I believe that it was widely welcomed. I am pleased about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, in particular, warmly welcomed it, but she and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked whether it would be joined up and why we excluded social care from the provisions. The answer is that we did not want there to be overlap in legislation. We are very clear that there must be a joined-up approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, asked about trailblazers and whether they were testing whether the right will work or how it will work. Disabled people have told us that the new right to control is too important to get wrong. We need to evaluate its impact on disabled people, service providers and public authorities. The trailblazers will evaluate the best ways to implement the right and will be used to inform the decision about the national rollout.
Several noble Lords referred to the measures around drugs, some in support and some with a degree of scepticism. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said that he was in support. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, described them as the most worrying aspect of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, was in favour. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said that there is no quick fix to deal with people who abuse drugs. We agree with that. I would like to explore the proposition that she advanced about the different positions between the DWP and the Home Office; perhaps it is a fruitful area for discussion in Committee. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, asked about the use of the word "propensity". Why does the Bill use that expression? A person who has a propensity to misuse drugs is somebody who, although not physically or psychologically dependent on a certain drug, is a habitual or regular user of it. I think that the expression is used in other provisions.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, pressed the Government on whether proper resources would be available to deal with these proposals and whether we would engage with those who are active in this field as we develop them. The answer to the first question is yes; the resources must be available if we are to make this work. Secondly, yes, of course we will engage with those who are active in this field, as we do—and will, I hope, continue to do—in so many areas of policy development.
The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, asked whether we were forcing claimants to undertake medical treatment against their will. I think that that was the thrust of her point. If a person's drug problem means that they would benefit from treatment, they can be required to agree to and follow a rehabilitation plan. The plan will include the treatment that has been determined by the drug treatment specialist to be the most appropriate for that person.
My noble friend Lady Hollis, as ever, challenged me with a powerful contribution. I think that her expression was that JSA is for men and income support is for women. While I welcome the support of the noble Baroness for the thrust of the Bill and, indeed, the Bill more widely, perhaps we might disagree on the gender apartheid of the benefit. I am sure that we will have a chance to discuss that more fully in Committee. My noble friend asked some pertinent questions about childcare costs and travel time. Travel time for lone parents and the work-related activity requirement will be tailored to individual circumstances, with considerable discretion for personal advisers. Similarly, several noble Lords raised the issue of who decides what childcare is suitable. Personal advisers will work with parents and the childcare partnership manager to identify and access appropriate childcare provision but will not dictate to parents which type of childcare or particular providers they must use. That remains a decision for parents.
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will come to this before he leaves the point about transport, in which case I apologise. He made it clear that this was negotiable during the progression to work. I understand that; it is entirely sensible. What happens when the child is seven and the lone parent is on JSA and, presumably, there is the important conditionality that comes with JSA? Under the current rules, somebody on JSA who has not found a job within 13 weeks of the contributory element expiring would be required to travel for up to one and a half hours each way per day to find a job. Can my noble friend assure me that the JSA conditionality associated with the distance that it can be expected that someone should travel to work once their youngest child is seven will not apply?
My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that once the youngest child reaches the age of seven the lone parent would move out of the progression-to-work category into the work-ready category and that therefore the full range of the requirements for jobseekers would apply. That would certainly include issues about travel times and costs, but there is flexibility in the system to recognise that lone parents may have to take their children to and pick them up from school and that there may be difficulties with transport—the points that she is concerned about. I do not believe that anyone would be sanctioned for not taking up a job if unreasonable travel costs or times were imposed on them, but clearly there is an element of conditionality.
My noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, referred to grandparents and the changes to national insurance contributions. I am pleased that that is welcomed. I thank my noble friend again for campaigning on that. I am pleased that we got that one out of the way; it will make life easier during the rest of our debate on the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked whether we propose to pilot the DEL-AME switch. We do, as part of the proposals that run on from the White Paper.
My noble friend Lord Watson said that conditionality was a blunt instrument. I disagree with that assessment. One of the thrusts of the Bill is to personalise the arrangements much more than in the past, so that there is that flexibility in the system. He asked about the extent to which the provisions have been developed in conjunction with the devolved Administrations. In broad terms, they have. He asked about provision of childcare. I should make it clear to him and to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, that if childcare is not available no one could be sanctioned or required to take up a job or engage in work-related activity.
My noble friend Lord Watson also talked about workfare. I should be clear that "work for your benefit" is not workfare. Workfare is a largely punitive programme of work aimed at dissuading claimants from continuing their claim. We believe that we should learn from the experience of other countries to ensure that full-time work experience is backed up with additional employment support to give the long-term unemployed the best chance of taking work in the open market.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Following up the end of this discussion of the points raised by me and the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, are the Government keeping a watching eye on the differences that might occur between administering these questions in England and in Scotland because of the different legislative competences?
Yes, my Lords, indeed we are, on a whole range of provisions. I remember that when we dealt with the child maintenance Bill, rather than the Welfare Reform Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, in particular was diligent in ensuring that we were well aware of the differences in the Scottish legal system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, asked about the research showing that sanctions for IB and JSA claimants work. Yes, our independent research shows that a mandatory work-focused interview regime backed by sanctions has a positive impact on the employment rates of customers. That conditionality changes behaviour.
On joint birth registration, we heard a range of views. Most noble Lords were supportive, including the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and I welcome that. My noble friend Lady Kennedy asked about victims of domestic violence and how they would be treated under these arrangements. I understand that registrars are already trained to spot signs of a forced marriage, to ensure that women are made aware of relevant support services and to seek to identify where there has been violence against women. We will be working with the General Register Office and linking into the consultation on violence against women and girls to explore how registrars could, as with forced marriage, help to ensure that victims can access appropriate support services.
I would like to pick up the point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. If the women and/or the child suffer violence or threats, then policing via the birth registration system is not the right way. It is a matter for the courts because obviously there is a broader issue. However, I will certainly reflect on that point and hope that we will have a chance to discuss it in Committee.
A number of noble Lords spoke on the issues around mental health and learning disabilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, spoke about the importance of strong safeguards before sanctions are imposed. I absolutely agree. We need to make sure that they are there. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, talked about training and I will come on to that in a moment. We will monitor contracts to make sure that we get the outcomes we want.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to the Sainsbury Centre report. He said that it is due soon and I look forward to it. He spoke powerfully and knowledgeably about people in prison and about double jeopardy and the challenges faced by those people. I believe we are focused on that but we will have a chance to delve into that in Committee.
So far as training on mental health is concerned, an important part of personal adviser training is awareness of working with people with disabilities. We have added specific training on mental health and the barriers faced by people suffering from these conditions. While advisers cannot all be experts on the subject, they have a good base knowledge and can draw on a range of tools and guidance plus the advice of more specialist advisers and work psychologists. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, who said that the reaction of staff in Jobcentre Plus was not always what she would want and clearly we need to make sure that there is consistency across the piece on this.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, spoke with great knowledge about people with learning disabilities. We acknowledge that that group has not moved closer to the labour market. Of all the groups that we have sought to help through our programmes it is probably people with learning disabilities who are the furthest away and have made the least progress. That is why in April last year we published a series of public service agreements which recognised the very low employment rates of people with a moderate to severe learning disability. Earlier this year we announced our intention to publish a cross-government employment strategy for people with learning disabilities. The noble Lord asked if we would propose amendments to make sure that there is proper monitoring of the outcomes of the arrangements for people with learning disabilities. We would not actually need primary legislation to do that. Again, it is important that we make sure that there is proper monitoring so that we get the outcomes we want.
The access to work programme is already well used by people with learning disabilities, including communicator support at interview, special aids and equipment and support work, including job coaching and travel to work. The noble Lord asked whether we will evaluate the progress to work pathfinders. We are breaking new ground in this area; there is limited experience, even in Scandinavia, so it is important to learn from our own experience as well as from that of others.
My noble friend Lady Wilkins asked about a customers' charter. We are committed to this and developing with stakeholders, but we do not think that statute is the right place to provide for that. Indeed, the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions hosted a seminar a few weeks ago on that very issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked what safeguards are in place to ensure that vulnerable customers are not sanctioned inappropriately. We will continue to ensure that each individual's circumstances are carefully considered before imposing any sanction and to maintain the safeguards already in place to prevent the unfair use of sanctions. The new work-focused, health-related assessment will help the adviser better to understand the challenges facing the customer.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, asked how the system will work to assess people with fluctuating conditions. I know that she feels strongly about that issue and has raised it before. There will be circumstances where mandatory intervention is clearly inappropriate. Those with the most severe disabling conditions will be in the support group and personal advisers will have the ability to defer work-focused interviews where a person is clearly not able to attend or to take part effectively. That will be particularly useful with regard to conditions such as MS which fluctuates in its effects. It is part of the standard safeguards that the personal adviser will consider in the context of each work-focused interview and whether the interview should be waived or deferred.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy asked about easements for parents who have experienced domestic violence. Jobcentre Plus advisers now have additional discretion in these circumstances to treat a lone parent as being available for work and therefore meeting the JSA requirement for up to a maximum of eight weeks continually. This period counts as one of four permitted periods when the lone parent may be treated as available for work. For lone parents claiming income support, there is currently no requirement for the individual to be actively seeking and available for work.
In the discussion document, Realising Potential: Developing Personalised Conditionality and Support, which we published on
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for seeking to answer that question. What really concerns us is that eight weeks in insufficient for dealing with someone who has left home because of domestic violence. The evidence is that there has usually been a long history before a woman takes the step of leaving home, particularly when she has children, and that the children often are in need of the security of the mother's presence. Therefore, we suggest that there should be at least three months and we would ask the Government to consider that. Perhaps the Minister will take that away with him.
My Lords, I am certainly happy to take that away and explore what flexibility there is at the moment. Perhaps we need to focus on the two situations; namely, those who are in the work-ready group who will be expected to be available and looking for work, and those in the progression-to-work group where there is no suggestion that they would be mandated or asked to take up work, or be directed to any particular employment, but simply to engage in activities which move them closer to the job market. That is a fruitful area for discussion in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, asked about the sanctions proposed by Professor Gregg. We support the principle of sanction escalation, which I think was the thrust of his recommendations, for those who repeatedly fail to attend appointments or undertake required activity. We will explore the use of full-time activity requirements for those who repeatedly fail to comply with their obligations. More generally, we will consider these proposals as part of the review recommended by Professor Gregg.
The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, asked about access to work and extending that to cover voluntary work and fluctuating work. We believe that access to work can best help those who are moving into or retaining to paid work. We are keen to see how access to work can better support those with fluctuating health conditions, but we need to balance the needs of customers with the need to ensure that access to work supports its primary aim, which is to help people sustain paid work.
I am sure that that is just a fraction of the points that have been raised tonight. I am grateful for who everyone has spoken in this productive debate. I hope that we will have the chance to move these things forward in Committee.
This Bill is a key stage of our continuing reform of the welfare system. We are already pressing ahead with a number of the measures announced in the White Paper. We announced further measures in the Budget to help the unemployed move back to work. The Bill will allow us to deliver comprehensive reforms to ensure that the welfare state is supported and that it expects people to support themselves. The Bill is not about punishing people for being on benefits; it is about ensuring that the welfare system provides people with the opportunities that they need to improve their skills, prepare for work and move off benefits and into employment where that is appropriate.
I overlooked in my notes the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on joint birth registration. I know that that is a matter on which he has campaigned and feels strongly. I am delighted that it is in the Bill with his support. When I saw his name on the list tonight, I knew that he would be pleased.
In conclusion, this Bill is designed to help us further along the road to a simpler, more personalised benefits system. It is designed to provide wide-ranging powers to let disabled people have more control of the provision of services applied to them. It is a Bill to ensure that parents take full responsibility for their children's upbringing. It is a good and necessary Bill and I commend it to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Grand Committee.