Welfare Reform Bill — Report (1st Day) (Continued)

– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 22nd October 2009.

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Amendment 7

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

7: Clause 2, page 4, line 23, after "who" insert "—

(a) "

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government), Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (also in Department for Work and Pensions), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government) 2:52 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, in moving Amendment 7, I will speak also to the other government amendments in this group. As noble Lords will be aware, in Committee I announced that we would table a number of government amendments to take into account the informative and thought-provoking debates that we had had. This set of amendments delivers those commitments and builds on them. The amendments provide the assurances and safeguards that noble Lords seek. I will start by briefly running through what these amendments do, but I want to spend the bulk of my time explaining what effect they will have on lone parents.

Amendments 10 and 19 seek to introduce flexibility to allow lone parents undertaking work-related activity on employment and support allowance, and those affected by progression-to-work, to restrict the hours when they undertake work-related activity. It is intended that this flexibility will be used to allow such lone parents to restrict their hours of availability so that they fit around their children's schooling or formal childcare. This has been introduced with the intention of mirroring the ability in jobseeker's allowance to restrict the number of hours that they are available for work.

I note in passing that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has tabled amendments that seek to extend the provisions above for lone parents to all parents. However, we have chosen to amend primary legislation for lone parents because we want to highlight the added problems that they will have in combining work-related activity and their caring responsibilities and to protect them accordingly. We feel that parents, as a more general group, do not face the same barriers, because they can share caring.

Amendments 19 and 21 place in primary legislation an assurance that lone parents with a youngest child aged below seven will not be required to meet the full jobseeking conditions of jobseeker's allowance—for example, being available for work or actively seeking work. This will give strength to our position of allowing lone parents to be entitled to claim income support or modified jobseeker's allowance until their youngest child is seven. Amendment 19 also removes the requirement for lone parents with a youngest child aged under one, and who are in receipt of income support and employment and support allowance, to attend work-focused interviews. To continue this across the benefits, Amendment 22 ensures that this position is carried forward into modified jobseeker's allowance. Lone parents on income support or employment and support allowance, with a youngest child aged between one and two, will still be required to attend mandatory work-focused interviews and draw up an action plan; they can voluntarily access the support available via the New Deal for Lone Parents or Pathways to Work.

Amendment 19 also seeks to put in primary legislation our intention that those lone parents with a youngest child aged between one and two, who are claiming employment and support allowance, will not be required to undertake any work-related activity. This means that only lone parents with a youngest child aged three or over can be required to undertake work-related activity.

Noble Lords will be aware that, when amendments are tabled, minor amendments are needed to make the legislation work. Amendments 93, 94 and 96 are three such amendments. They are included so that when income support is eventually abolished all the statutory references go with it.

Amendments 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 25 and 26 reaffirm our policy intention and make it clear in the Bill that only those lone parents who are on income support—and, in future, on modified JSA—and who have a youngest child aged between three and six, will be required to undertake work-related activity. To put these amendments in context, I will now cover the journey that a lone parent will make as a result of these amendments and the existing Bill provisions.

As I have mentioned, lone parents with a youngest child under one will be in the "no conditionality" group. A "no conditionality" approach allows us to mirror other policies, such as changes to maternity entitlement and maternity and paternity leave, which already protect the position of lone parents in the important first year of a child's life. This ensures that, during that first year, lone parents will have the right and the ability to look after and bond with their child, without any requirements to engage with Jobcentre Plus. However, this does not necessarily mean that they have no access to support and advice about preparation for work. They will still be able voluntarily to attend work-focused interviews and access the support and various benefits that are available to lone parents with a youngest child aged between one and two.

Lone parents with a youngest child between one and two will be expected to attend mandatory work-focused interviews. When their youngest child is aged three to six, they will be expected to attend three-monthly work-focused interviews and agree an action plan with their adviser to undertake work-related activity. This action plan will set out their individual route to prepare them for work when it is appropriate for them. We expect that the action plan will be subject to the well-being provisions that we are about to debate.

As we have discussed, this preparation for work may start with limited activity for the parent, gradually increasing as they move closer to the labour market and want to enter work or as their child becomes older and they feel more able to work. To support this gradual increase, tailored to the individual's needs, we do not intend to have a specific definition of what will qualify as work-related activity. Rather, we want to establish the principle that these customers are on an active journey towards eventual employment, keeping the specific steps open for claimants and advisers to agree on an individual basis. For example, after their discussion, a parent and an adviser may agree that, because confidence is low and the lone parent is at the beginning of their journey and some way from the labour market, quarterly attendance at a children's centre is an acceptable work-related activity as a starting point. At the other end of the scale, a parent who is much more prepared for work may agree with an adviser a more intensive activity, such as daily attendance at a short, part-time course, to develop or update work-related skills while their child is at school.

We expect many lone parents with a youngest child aged between three and six to be among the hardest to help, likely to be some distance from the labour market and typically to have multiple barriers to employment. Work-related activity should therefore be interpreted broadly to meet their needs if it is to be most helpful. It should not be restricted to formal training or confidence building, although these could be qualifying activities. Unlike "work for your benefit", which is only for those on the full jobseeker's allowance regime, and which we have already discussed, there will be no daily requirement to undertake activity, but there will be a minimal one to undertake one activity between work-focused interviews. This will allow advisers and lone parents flexibility in drawing up the action plans and tailoring activities to their individual needs and situation. Throughout this, they will be able to protect the time in which their children are normally not at school or in formal childcare. We will not require them to undertake any activity that cuts into that time.

I stress that work-related activity will not require any lone parent to be available for or actively seeking work. Instead, it will help lone parents in their journey towards the workplace, improving their skills and their knowledge of what is available, in order to support them and prepare them for when their youngest child reaches seven, so that the move to jobseeking will not be a sudden step up but the next step in their journey towards work, as we have discussed. Then, when the child is seven or over, they will be subject to the jobseeker's allowance regime and, where appropriate, be able to use the flexibilities that we introduced when we changed the entitlement conditions for income support for lone parents based on the age of their youngest child from November 2008. These flexibilities allow lone parents to be available for work for a minimum of 16 hours a week and allow them to refuse a job or to leave employment if childcare is not available.

Additionally, a lone parent can restrict their availability so that this does not clash with school hours or formal childcare. We have also added the need for a personal adviser to ensure that the well-being of the child is taken into account when drawing up a jobseeker's agreement. I believe that these amendments fulfil the obligations that we introduced in Committee. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 3:00 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 9 and 11, which seek to amend Amendments 8 and 10 respectively. These are probing amendments. I have tabled them to raise a very real question, as I see it. I welcome and support all the amendments that the noble Lord has tabled in relation to lone parents. I by no means ignore the very real problems that lone parents have and I support what the Government are doing. However, significant problems and injustices may arise as a result of prioritising lone parents in the way proposed.

The Minister referred to shared parenting. I am not convinced that it is reasonable to assume that, because two people are living together as a couple, the second partner will be available to stand in for the other parent when they are called to the jobcentre. Is it reasonable to assume that a partner will be available, able to and qualified to take up childcare to suit the jobcentre, especially when substantial travel time may be involved? Is it not possible that sometimes the partner will be a totally inappropriate person? He might be an alcoholic, violent or aggressive. Being one of a couple does not necessarily guarantee that attending interviews or work-related activities will be any easier. Couple parents may also have problems; conversely, single parents who have good childcare facilities would be just as well off with their child being looked after in childcare as they would be by having them looked after by a partner.

I raise this issue not only because I believe that the concerns of couple parents should be drawn to the attention of the House, but because there are problems. Penalising couple parents, which is what this will be seen as, creates a perverse incentive. It will discourage unmarried couples from making a home together for their child. Children need the security of family life, with two committed parents wherever possible. We already have a tax and benefit system that, for some parents, costs them 20 per cent more to live together than to live apart. The disadvantage that is implicit in the noble Lord's amendments will tend to encourage one of the worst and most dangerous family structures for children—a home where the mother lives with short-term, often-changing male partners.

The amendments that the Government and others have introduced to protect children of lone parents are excellent, but they should be extended to cover couple parents as well. If the Government say that this is a step too far and will cost too much, I would say that the availability of childcare should be the criterion. If childcare is available to the partner couple from the partner, or if childcare is available from any other source, that is fine. Those people should not be excluded from the obligations to attend the jobcentre. Where childcare from the partner or outside is not available, the exclusions in my amendments should be appropriate. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Afshar Baroness Afshar Crossbench

My Lords, I speak in reluctant support of this proposition, not because I think that couples who live together should be married, but in particular because for many low-income couples the facility of taking time off is not a real option. If you have an insecure job in which you are paid for the day you work, taking a day off may not be appropriate. My hope is that the preference given in the Bill to the welfare of children will mean that, if a parent feels that the welfare of the children is threatened, they will not go to work. If that is not the case, I would very much like "lone" to be removed.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions

My Lords, I should like to take advantage of this group of amendments to reiterate our fundamental support for the Bill—I am grateful that the Minister has acknowledged that support. The protective measures introduced in these government amendments go a long way towards satisfying our concerns. Indeed, should our Amendment 6 be incorporated in the Act, the structure of these government amendments would offer a coherent approach, on a sensible timeline, to drawing lone parents into the workforce and, I hope, out of poverty. We are pleased that the Government have responded positively to our concerns in this area.

The only specific point that I should like to make is on the protection that we sought to introduce in our previous amendment on work-related activity. I refer to our debate before lunch, when the Minister told us that action plans would be light. However, when introducing these amendments, he said that the plans may require daily attendance at a part-time course. Which of the two alternatives is to be applied?

I should like to express admiration for the deletions proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in Amendments 9 and 11 of the word "lone" in "lone parents". This would widen the protections from lone parents to all parents. His logic is impeccable. Differentiating in this way between lone parents and couples serves to encourage the state of single parenthood.

The noble Lord has put his finger on a huge problem. That excellent publication launched last month by the Centre for Social Justice, Dynamic Benefits, found that nearly 2 million low-earning couples lose an average of £1,336 per year because they live together. Only three of the 26 OECD countries surveyed have larger couple penalties than the UK. People in this situation know it. The document states:

"This is a strong disincentive to marriage or cohabitation and is recognised as such by those who face it. Our polling showed that 77% of those who are out of work or in part-time work think low-earning/unemployed people are materially better off if they live apart than if they live as a couple".

The thought seems to have bred action. The study found that low earners are 30 to 50 per cent less likely than high earners to live as couples.

These are two powerful, probing amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. In practice, the conditionality for lone parents is being ratcheted up in the Bill, so in relative terms the differentiation is being reduced. I would be interested to learn from the Minister whether the Government have any plans to address the underlying problem in the context of a much broader review of the welfare system.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I, too, acknowledge that the Minister's amendments in this group contain welcome concessions. I am also grateful that he took the opportunity to sketch out what he thinks the journey for lone parents will look like. Am I right in thinking that until the child is seven, when lone parents will join the normal jobseeker's allowance regulations under the provisions of the 1995 Act, with all that that entails, these parents will be in the hands of Jobcentre Plus and not of providers who might be looking after parents of three to five year-olds—or whatever client groups we have—in a different way? I would be more comfortable if the journey to the age of seven was contained within the public service, because of the necessary evaluation of how the change in policy and its delivery are being implemented, particularly in relation to the protections that are essential to making sure that the policy works.

I listened as carefully as I could. The impression given was that until the child is seven, Jobcentre Plus and professionals in the public service will look after their client group, and afterwards there is the possibility of going to private service providers. I said earlier that evaluation is very important. We are looking at a back-to-work White Paper—goodness help us—in the next fortnight or three weeks, and there is a danger that this will be so confusing to lone parent groups, never mind the policy makers who are trying to understand the legislation, that people will get lost in the complexity. If the White Paper has another go at this and makes more changes in the few weeks before it is published, that is something that the House would want to look at.

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

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. Everyone has supported the government amendments. I will return in a moment to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I accept that they are probing amendments, which the Government are not able to accept.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that I accept and appreciate the broad support that has been given by his Benches to the Bill. In relation to the debate that we had on the action plan, and the extent of the detail in the plans and the activity levels required, I have tried to explain that we see this as a journey. When the youngest child is three or four, the level of activity is likely to be less than when the youngest child approaches the age of seven, which is the point at which the parent will enter the jobseeker's allowance regime, with the full conditionality that goes with it. We see it as a journey, which is why, in the early days, the requirements on lone parents would be quite gentle. It might be just one activity in the course of a quarter between two work-focused interviews. It might be going along to a children's centre or going to get support to sort out the parent's finances. If the lone parent wishes to do more, there will be the opportunity for that. That is the journey that we see—a progression towards the time when individuals will be subject to the full conditionality of jobseeker's allowance.

The noble Lord posed a broader point about family structures and what the Government have done to support those structures. We could spend a lot of time debating what the Government have done in the way of tax credits and supporting families, and particularly children, making what I believe to be significant improvements in our society. Hundreds of thousands of children have been taken out of poverty but there are still some challenges to go. The forward direction of the welfare system is partly addressed in the Bill before us. We have promised in due course a White Paper, which will map out the steps going forward. I think I would characterise this group of government amendments as focusing on family-friendly issues, particularly support for and recognition of the role that parents have in bringing up, supporting and caring for their children. That is the direction from which we have come and on which we are embarked.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, asked about the position before the progression-to-work changes and what conditionality would apply to lone parents with children under the age of seven. Such parents would typically be on income support. I do not think that they would be precluded from employment and support allowance, but that would obviously depend on their circumstances. The conditionality applied would generally be turning up for work-focused interviews. If the parent was on employment and support allowance, they could be in a pathways system, rather than on income support, where by and large there would be engagement with Jobcentre Plus. I shall check but I think I am right in saying that parents in that position are still able to volunteer for the New Deal support that is on offer. I see reassuring nods from the Box, where I think the heads are going up and down rather than sideways, so I have some confidence in that remark.

I turn to address more specifically the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I accept that they are probing and therefore hope that he will not press them. With regard to child maintenance, there are technical rules on shared care, based on the payment of child benefit and the number of nights spent with each parent. I think that the noble Lord was involved in our debates on the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill the year before last, although it seems like only yesterday. The benefits system assumes that the child is cared for by the parent receiving the child benefit. We have looked at other systems but they all have considerable practical problems. I should also make the point that the childcare flexibility, good cause and well-being safeguards apply to all parents, not just lone parents. That is very important.

Again, I am grateful for the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, who has been supportive of and has engaged in these provisions. We are grateful for that.

With that, I ask for support for the government amendments and ask the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, not to press his amendments.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 3:15 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, I do not think that the Minister really explained why the non-availability of childcare, whether family care or outside care, was not a better criterion than a parent simply happening to be a lone parent. Is it just that Gingerbread is persuasive or is there some real argument for this particular prejudice in favour of lone mothers when many couple mothers also have problems? Having said that, I shall not press my amendments.

Amendment 7 agreed.

Amendment 8

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

8: Clause 2, page 4, line 23, after "support" insert ", and

(b) is not a lone parent of a child under the age of 3,"

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

I beg to move.

Amendment 11, as an amendment to Amendment 10, not moved.

Amendment 10 agreed.

Amendments 12 and 13

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

12: Clause 2, page 5, line 44, at end insert—

"(aa) "lone parent" means a person who—

(i) is not a member of a couple, and

(ii) is responsible for, and a member of the same household as, a child;"

13: Clause 2, page 6, line 8, at end insert—

"(8A) For the purposes of this section regulations may make provision—

(a) as to circumstances in which one person is to be treated as responsible or not responsible for another;

(b) as to circumstances in which persons are to be treated as being or not being members of the same household."

Amendments 12 and 13 agreed.

Amendment 14

Moved by Baroness Meacher

14: Clause 2, page 6, line 30, at end insert "provided that such particulars shall not include taking any surgical or medical treatment"

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 23 and 35. These amendments complement the Government's amendment to Clause 8, which ensures that a direction by the Secretary of State may not specify medical or surgical treatment as the only activity which is regarded as work-related activity in an individual case. The government amendment reflects the Government's agreement that medical treatment cannot be regarded as an activity, which, if the claimant fails to accept it, is subject to sanctions. In other words, compulsory treatment under the threat of benefit sanctions does not belong in this or in any other government legislation. I am not suggesting that the Government are saying that compulsory treatment does not belong in any other legislation—those are my words—but their amendment on this issue shows their commitment, at least, in relation to this piece of legislation.

I have tabled these three amendments because I believe that the government amendment on its own leaves a loophole. If a claimant agrees to include medical treatment in their action plan, perhaps under duress—none of us can be sure about that—and if they fail to undertake that part of their action plan they may be subject to benefit sanctions. We know that some 50 per cent of claimants are failing the test which could qualify them for employment support allowance. Therefore, they are placed on jobseeker's allowance, as I understand it, even if they have mental or physical disabilities as long as those are not assessed as preventing them taking a job. It is therefore important that the clarification that medical treatment will not be a sanctionable work-related activity is included within the Bill in relation to the various benefits covered by the Bill.

These three amendments do just that. There is an issue here. For many people, psychological treatment or a rehabilitation programme may be very important in preparing them for a return to work. It would therefore make sense to include those treatments within an action plan. My point is that these treatments must not be sanctionable. If someone does not feel able to enter treatment for some reason at a particular time, they should not be forced to do so.

There are four powerful reasons for that. First, treatment without consent is a breach of civil liberties and a potential breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Secondly, such treatment is not efficacious. Any treatment, but most particularly psychological treatment which is likely to be applicable to many of these claimants, will not work effectively without the client's commitment and engagement. One has only to think about it to realise that if someone is forced to go along to some CBT therapist, they may miss a session, they may turn up late, they may not concentrate and the whole thing will be thoroughly unhelpful. Thirdly, such treatments would be a waste of resources. There are not enough therapists available to deal with the people who desperately want that help. If a therapist takes on a claimant who is there only to ensure continuation of their benefits, the therapist will almost certainly be wasting their time, time which could fruitfully be devoted to another claimant who wants that help. Fourthly, and very importantly for the Government and the rest of us, legislation in one department should be consistent with legislation in another. Therefore, the Welfare Reform Bill should be consistent with the Mental Health Act 2007.

I shall not go into detail on that. Suffice it to say that someone can be given treatment without his consent only with the most rigorous safeguards under the 2007 Act. For example, if somebody has a severe mental illness and two senior clinicians and a nurse or social worker have signed to say that he has such an illness and that that illness might result in him being a threat to his own life or somebody else's, he may be detained in hospital and, for a period of three months, given treatment without his consent. None of that is reflected in this Bill, and I do not think any Government could justify that inconsistency between the rigours of the Mental Health Act 2007 and the apparent relaxation in relation to treatment without consent that one is confronted with in the Bill. I understand that the Government accept these arguments.

I propose that any medical treatment needed by a claimant should be included in an annexe to the action plan that would not be sanctionable. I do not want the idea that psychological help, which may be very important to the claimant, should not be included in any way in an action plan. That would be unhelpful. I wait with interest to hear the Minister's response.

An important related point is that under the Mental Health Act regulations and guidance, it is made abundantly clear that the term "medical treatment" includes habilitation and rehabilitation and, most particularly, includes psychological treatment. I ask the Minister to assure the House today that the regulations to be issued with respect to the Welfare Reform Bill will use the same definition of medical treatment as that used in the regulations and guidance under the Mental Health Act. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I completely concur with the noble Baroness's view that benefit recipients should never be directed to undertake medical or surgical treatment to fulfil their conditionality, and I agree that we should have consistency across the legislation in this area. That has always been our policy intention. Nevertheless, we have listened to the invaluable debates that we have had in this House and we have decided to move this safeguard into the Bill. That is the purpose of our Amendments 16, 28, 36, 42, 43, 49 and 50.

Amendment 16 amends Clause 2F, which covers income support customers, to ensure that a direction cannot specify a medical or surgical treatment as the only activity that in any person's case is to be regarded as being work-related activity. Amendment 28 to Schedule 1 ensures that this extends to customers on modified JSA. Amendment 36 is to Clause 8 and extends this safeguard to ESA customers. Amendments 42 and 43 are to Schedule 3 and extend this safeguard to problem drug users on JSA. Amendments 49 and 50 are to Schedule 3 and extend this safeguard to problem drug users on ESA.

Where individuals have a health condition that in itself is a barrier to them returning to work, we believe that they should receive appropriate help and support to make a return to work possible, such as counselling or physiotherapy, if that is something they think is appropriate for themselves. The effect of the government amendments is such that it will remain permissible for customers to undertake such medical or surgical treatment to meet their work-related activity requirement voluntarily and with informed consent. However, under the noble Baroness's amendment, that would be impossible. Whether it were in an annex or in the agreement itself, it would amount to the same thing. This would prohibit an adviser from entering such activities on the action plan—activities that the customer might want to undertake and which might be very beneficial for that person. We will ensure that customers are not penalised, if they changed their mind about this voluntary decision, by allowing them to fulfil their requirement to undertake work-related activity by completing another activity on their action plan.

We have deliberately not defined medical or surgical treatment in the Bill, but we will produce detailed guidance for advisers on what are and are not appropriate activities to direct customers into. We would never, for example, direct customers into treatments such as physiotherapy, psychotherapy, a condition-management programme, or a diet or exercise regime. We are also confident that healthcare professionals will not deliver anything that constitutes treatment against a customer's will. This would be against medical ethics and codes of practice.

I hope that our government amendments will allay the concerns that noble Lords have expressed about this issue in previous debates, and will demonstrate in primary legislation our determination to ensure that people cannot be coerced into medical treatment—the same concerns that the noble Baroness has sought to address through her amendments. I commend Amendments 16, 28, 36, 42, 44, 49 and 50 to the House, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions 3:30 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, we welcome the Minister's clarification of whether the claimants of the ESA might have to undergo medical treatment under the guise of work-related activity with the obvious result that they would be penalised if they failed to comply. We are pleased that he has clarified that that will not happen.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, in this debate on government Amendment 36, on work-related activity for claimants of the employment and support allowance, I bring to noble Lords' attention the importance of the monitoring-by-impairment group. The Minister and the Bill team have been very helpful in improving the Bill, although I fear that their help has not extended as far as the monitoring-by-impairment group as I would have wished. However, I live in hope.

Amendment 36 is specific to Clause 8, on the power to direct the claimant to undertake specific work-related activity, and relates in particular to employment and support allowance claimants and to Pathways to Work provision. My point, however, relates to other provisions such as the new Work Choice employment programme, the flexible new deal, and the "work for your benefit" scheme, which is to be piloted for long-term jobseekers.

Given the scope of the changes that are proposed in the Bill, inevitably there is significant uncertainty about what will follow for people with a learning disability. This uncertainty would be acknowledged if appropriate safeguards were put in place by the monitoring-by-impairment group, thereby addressing many people's concerns about some aspects of the Bill. There are, for example, multiple barriers to employment faced by people with a learning disability, and I am concerned about the apparent failure to take their specific needs into account and that a disproportionate number of them could be moved towards "work for your benefit" schemes.

I am concerned that such workfare measures could be introduced as a consequence of factors outside the control of the individual, such as a failure by the flexible new deal provider to give them appropriate support. Indeed, the Department for Work and Pensions' very own impact assessment states that "the policy proposal"—the "work for your benefits" scheme—

"is expected to have a greater impact on people with a disability as they are more likely to reach the end of Flexible New Deal without having moved into employment".

However, without adequate information from the monitoring-by-impairment group, we may not be aware of the extent of this or indeed other trends. Without the means to know the extent to which people with learning disabilities and others—I am aware that the Royal College of Psychiatrists has expressed similar concern about those with mental health conditions—how are we to judge the effectiveness of the Government's proposals? How are we to assess whether people with learning disabilities are able to access genuine opportunities to employment? How are we to ascertain the extent, or otherwise, of the Government's success? As noble Lords will be aware, 1 have consistently championed moves to provide increased support for people with learning disabilities, and disabled people in general, to seek, gain and retain employment.

However, I have ongoing concerns as to how the reforms may work in practice for those individuals furthest from entering the labour market. There needs to be an acknowledgement that individuals' disabilities can be vastly different and require significantly diverse types and levels of support. Without a clear analysis of those for whom the new reforms are reaching, and where, when and to what extent, I fear that the Government may fail in their aim of breaking down the barriers to meaningful employment for all people with a disability. l believe that this Bill provides the Government with a valuable opportunity to meet their commitments as set out in Valuing Employment Now and ensure that more people with learning disabilities can access employment and not be denied the opportunities to which they are clearly entitled as they seek to enter the job market and gain full citizenship. What assurances can the Minister give me?

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I want to thank the Minister sincerely for a most helpful response to my amendments, in particular the absolute clarification that in no circumstances would a claimant be subject to sanctions, even if they have a reference to some form of medical treatment or psychological therapy within their action plan, and subsequently change their mind for any reason and do not pursue that treatment. It is enormously important to have had that said in this House as a reference for anyone concerned.

The other important aspect of the Minister's response was his clarification that medical treatment refers to all forms of treatment, including—we did not use the word "rehabilitation"—psychological treatment, to which the noble Lord referred, which makes the point. On the basis of those assurances, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 14 withdrawn.

Amendment 15

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

15: Clause 2, page 6, line 40, at end insert—

"(6) In preparing any action plan, the Secretary of State must have regard (so far as practicable) to its impact on the well-being of any person under the age of 16 who may be affected by it."

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

Before I turn to Amendment 15 formally, perhaps I may thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his support for the government amendments. I am pleased that we have been able to clarify the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is appropriately concerned about and that we have a meeting of minds. I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is a huge campaigner and has great expertise around the issue of people with learning difficulties. He is fundamentally absolutely right about the need for monitoring. Without that monitoring and data, it is difficult to determine the progress being made. I thank the noble Lord for giving me this opportunity to discuss that important issue before I explain what data we collect on our employment programmes.

Perhaps I may start by outlining the progress we have made since our debates in Committee. During the summer, departmental officials held a workshop with the Disability Benefits Consortium to discuss this issue. The discussion focused on the data that the department currently holds about a customer's impairment type and how it could be used to enhance understanding of the effectiveness of DWP's disability employment programmes. All parties were in agreement that monitoring by impairment type was important in order to allow comprehensive evaluation of the department's employment programmes and benefits. The Government's position remains the same. We are committed to monitoring by disability and medical condition where it is practical to do so.

For all IB and ESA customers, the department holds detailed information about a customer's primary medical condition. This information uses the international classification of disease. Figures on the high-level medical condition of IB and ESA claimants are already published on the DWP website as part of our quarterly national statistics publication. This information will be collected on customers taking part in the welfare reform pilots and will be used to analyse the impact of these back-to-work programmes. Subject to sample size and data validity, we plan to use such data to analyse the impact of our programmes and to publish them as part of DWP's evaluation and research.

For specialist disability employment programmes such as WORKSTEP, work preparation and Access to Work, the department collects high-level impairment information using a variety of classification systems. The Government intend to publish official statistics on the new Work Choice programme and we hope to include impairment information as part of this publication. I hope that this goes some way towards reassuring the noble Lord that we take this matter extremely seriously.

That leads me, if I may, to government Amendment 15 and the amendments grouped with it. Again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for ensuring that during our discussions in Grand Committee, we did not lose sight of the impact that this Bill may have on children. Amendments 15, 24 and 60 ensure that the well-being of children is always taken into account when the personal adviser and the parent agree the steps the parent will take to prepare for and move into work when completing an action plan or a jobseeker's agreement. We have drawn on the provisions in Section 7 of the Children and Young Person's Act 2008 which state that it is the general duty of the Secretary of State to promote the well-being of children in England. The Act refers to a definition of "well-being" in Section 10(2) of the Children Act 2004 and requires the following to be taken into account: the child's physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the contribution made by them to society, and their social and economic well-being. It is this definition that will be used when advisers and decision-makers make judgments on what is reasonable when they draw up an action plan or jobseeker's agreement with a parent. This will require them to take into account all these important factors.

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that ensuring that parents prepare for and enter work has a beneficial impact on individual claimants and their children. Evidence shows that the benefits to children if their parents are working are more far-reaching than increased income alone. Indeed, children have reported the benefits of parental employment, and parents making the move into paid work have observed positive psychological benefits in their children. For example, a study of newly working households found reduced stigma among children as a result of their parents leaving the benefits system and as a consequence fitting in more with their peers and having a less stressful home life due to fewer arguments about money. Personal advisers and decision-makers already deal with complex circumstances in their discussions with parents, and I believe that this amendment will enable them to deliver a more personalised and family-focused approach. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, simply for information, Amendment 15 refers to a person under the age of 16 whereas some of the other amendments, such as Amendment 24, refer to the "well-being of any child". I understand a child to be any person under the age of 18, and I wonder what the reason is for the difference.

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

The noble Lord raises an interesting point to which I regret I am unable to provide an answer at the Dispatch Box. I shall prevaricate for a little while in the hope that rescue may come from the Box, but if not, perhaps I may write to the noble Lord. I am sure there is a full answer, but it is not here yet. I shall write to him.

Amendment 15 agreed.

Amendment 16

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

16: Clause 2, page 7, line 2, at end insert—

"(1A) But a direction under subsection (1) may not specify medical or surgical treatment as the only activity which, in any person's case, is to be regarded as being work-related activity."

Amendment 16 agreed.

Amendment 17

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

17: Clause 2, page 9, line 5, at end insert—

"2H Good cause for failure to comply with regulations

(1) This section applies to any regulations made under section 2A, 2AA or 2D that prescribe matters to be taken into account in determining whether a person has good cause for any failure to comply with the regulations.

(2) The provision made by the regulations prescribing those matters must include provision relating to—

(a) the person's physical or mental health or condition;

(b) the availability of childcare.""

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government), Department for Communities and Local Government, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government), Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) (also in Department for Work and Pensions), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government) 3:45 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, I shall speak also to the other government amendments in this group.

I return now to the important issue of good cause. Noble Lords will be aware that where ESA, IS or JSA customers fail to undertake mandatory activity they are given the opportunity to demonstrate good cause for this before a sanction is considered. In previous debates we have discussed the importance of this as a safeguard ensuring that customers are not sanctioned unfairly.

I continue to believe that it would be impossible to specify all the circumstances in which somebody would have a good reason for failure to comply with the requirements on them. Jobcentre Plus decision-makers therefore have a responsibility to fairly assess all the evidence available to them, considering each person's individual circumstances. However, in order to assist the decision-maker in this assessment, regulations provide a list of matters which the decision-maker may take into account in determining whether the customer has good cause. These circumstances vary depending on the nature of the requirement and the benefit claimed. We do not propose to create an exhaustive list of circumstances that must be taken into account.

However, we have listened to the views of both Houses and believe that there is a case for making clear in primary legislation that good-cause considerations must take account of the availability of childcare and the customer's health condition or disability. I am therefore bringing forward Amendments 17, 52 and 59 to achieve this. In practice, consideration of such matters already happens but we want to place this beyond doubt and ensure that it is safeguarded for the future. I hope that the amendments reassure noble Lords that no customer will be unfairly sanctioned where they are prevented from complying with a requirement because of a lack of available childcare or as a result of a health condition or disability, and that they go some way to reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—who will be speaking to her amendment in a moment—that we make every attempt to give customers adequate opportunity to demonstrate good cause.

If a customer fails to attend a work-focused interview, the adviser will contact the customer by phone, prior to writing to them, to ask them for evidence of good cause. The customer will then be given five days to provide that evidence. I note that in her amendment the noble Baroness seeks to include in primary legislation that we must always make reasonable attempts to visit a customer with a disability, mental impairment or significant communications difficulty at their usual address. At present we attempt to make a home visit to customers who have a mental health condition, learning disability or a condition that affects cognition if they fail to attend a work-focused interview in order to explain the conditionality. If we are unsuccessful the first time, we will try for a second time. If this fails, a manager will investigate the customer's situation to try to establish their whereabouts and make referrals to other services if appropriate. We would not sanction a customer if we believed that they had not understood the conditionality on them. We intend to apply these safeguards to good cause with regard to work-related activity also.

The noble Baroness wishes us to put in primary legislation that we should put in place any reasonable support measures to enable the customer to comply with the conditionality. Advisers already endeavour to do this. For example, customers with a learning disability may bring an advocate along to their work-focused interviews. We will be providing clear guidance to our advisers around the good-cause procedure and around the support that should be put in place to enable customers to comply with conditionality.

As I have explained, we have also tabled an amendment to the Bill that good-cause consideration should include a customer's disability or health condition. This demonstrates how seriously we take putting appropriate safeguards in place for our customers. Having said that, I beg to move the amendment. I hope, although she has not yet spoken to her amendment, that that helps the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, before speaking to Amendment 20, I thank the Minister for Amendment 17 on the same subject, which goes some way towards meeting the requirements under good cause, as he said. However, the government amendment on its own does not go far enough.

The Minister said that advisers try to make home visits when they can, and so on, but this should not be done on an arbitrary or "if time permits" basis. Certainly in my limited direct experience of these matters, these things do not happen in general. My amendment introduces a general requirement on the welfare system to give claimants an adequate opportunity to explain their non-attendance at a work-focused interview or activity.

The amendment also includes three appropriate steps that must—not "may"—be undertaken by officials to ensure that a person with a disability, mental impairment or significant communication difficulty has had an adequate opportunity to demonstrate good cause. These are all reasonable attempts to achieve a visit to the person's home—we understand that there are of course occasions when somebody just hides behind the door, pretends to be out and is just not available. All we are seeking here is that reasonable attempts should have been made. That is vital for people with mental health problems and fluctuating conditions. I spoke at length in Committee about just how vulnerable those people feel if they receive a letter inviting them to an interview and a subsequent letter saying that their benefits will be sanctioned. They may not even have opened the first letter and will certainly not have opened the second.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

They probably would not even have had the letter because of a postal strike.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

Let us assume that the Royal Mail is working most of the time or at least continues to exist, which of course it may not.

I mentioned in Committee that the brother of a friend of mine went to see his brother who had a mental health problem and whose benefits had long since been cancelled. He had not eaten for goodness knows how long. My friend's brother could hardly get through the door for all the mail, leaflets and newspapers behind it. Nothing had been opened, and there was no way that this man was going to get to the phone, make a coherent phone call or find a piece of paper and write a letter. None of that was remotely possible. One cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of home visits for these very vulnerable claimants. It just is not good enough to say, "Maybe we'll try and do it".

The second step in the amendment is provision of any support measures that the person requires in order to comply with the Bill, leaving it rather open to take account of various special circumstances of different claimants. The third is the making of all reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The amendment is important because, as the Bill stands, claimants unable to attend a work-related interview or activity must demonstrate good cause. However, be it through ill health or a lack of understanding, they may inadvertently fail to do so. If somebody is being difficult, that is understandable, but if somebody inadvertently fails to comply, it does not seem right that they should be even poorer than they would otherwise be.

The Minister said in Committee:

"If the customer has a mental health condition or learning difficulties, the personal adviser will arrange for a home visit to take place. The adviser will always attempt to meet the customer before any reduction in benefit is proposed".—[Official Report, 11/6/09; col. GC 129.]

This is an important statement, for which I thank the Minister, but he needs to give more assurance that these things will be in place. I hope he will agree for it to be written into the Bill as a specific duty. If it is left to guidance, as the Minister is suggesting, I have no doubt that it will lapse or be applied very unevenly across the country, which has always happened. The tragic suicides of people on incapacity benefit who have been informed by letter that their benefit has been cancelled make clear how important this is. It may sound trivial, but it is not.

With reference to providing reasonable adjustments under the Disability Discrimination Act, we remain concerned about the five-day timeframe for someone to demonstrate good cause—we tabled amendments in Committee on that issue. However, this amendment accepts that the five-day limit will remain, but that a claimant with a disability might justify a longer period or a different process for satisfying the good cause condition. We are looking for flexibility and individual treatment, rather than a rigid increase from five days to—let us say—10 days. It would be more helpful. Likewise, reasonable adjustments will have to be made in the case of a claimant with a mental health problem. We discussed the special needs of claimants at length, but this amendment is important because, in a new and tougher regime, it provides assurances for claimants in different circumstances and with a range of special needs. That is the important point about this—it seeks to ensure that people are not inappropriately and improperly denied the benefits to which they are entitled.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

I shall speak to Amendment 17. I very much welcome the Minister's amendment on good cause, which will place on statute that any failure to comply with regulations must take into account a person's physical or mental health condition. I want to underline several points.

The definition of good cause was extremely important in relation to safeguarding people with a learning disability, as has already been acknowledged, and should include their failure to understand what is expected of them, as well as recognition of inadequate support for a claimant in complying with conditions imposed on them. As they stand, the draft regulations state that the claimant,

"has to show good cause for failure to undertake general or specific work-related activity due to learning, language or literacy difficulties or any misleading information given by the Secretary of State".

It does not acknowledge the issue of support. What would happen, for example, if a person with a learning disability is expected to attend a work-focused interview but cannot travel independently and has no one to support them to attend? Surely that would be good cause for failure to comply. Any reassurances that the Minister can provide in this matter would be most welcome.

Photo of Baroness Afshar Baroness Afshar Crossbench

I have a concern with respect to minorities, which can regard any kind of mental illness as a dishonouring factor in the family and are highly likely to hide anyone who has that kind of disability and exclude them from access to these rights. Being able to find those people and visit them helps the individual—sometimes against the wishes of the family, but it is extremely helpful and important. I suggest that geography, too, should be a factor. There are areas in which you really do not see a social worker from year to year, because it is just too far. Often it is in those areas that the greatest need exists. A requirement for someone to check on them would help recipients.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

I shall add a word or two about this important group of amendments and support the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I concur with her argument. I am not naturally disposed to putting things like this in a Bill, as it often constrains consideration, because people are shoe-horned into primary legislation, which can inhibit flexibility in practice. However, this is so important—and the addition of the two or three issues to which the noble Baroness alluded under Amendment 20 would enhance the confidence with which people approached this legislation, if the Government saw fit to accept it.

I have a couple of operational and delivery-type questions around this area. Of course, the key person in the consideration of good cause is the decision-maker, but there is upstream and downstream activity from both these things. I know that decision-makers are serious professionals and experienced hands and are usually capable of carrying the weight of a decision of this importance. However, in the new regime, as far as I can see, service providers will take the initial decision to refer to a decision-maker. What will the process and guidance be, and what requirements in the contracts for service providers on training will be set out on this question about consideration of good cause? If there were proper provisions, guidance and requirements for training people before they started considering questions of the operation of good cause, that would be important to know.

There is also, of course, the downstream activity of review through the independent tribunal process. That is well established and will, no doubt, come to decisions, as a matter of fact, in the fullness of time on questions about what is and is not a good cause. I am concerned about the Government sensitively monitoring those decisions when they start to flow, as that may well not be for some time. Then, if the balance of what we are all trying to achieve in this Bill is not delivered in practice as a result of those operational and delivery decisions, the Government should be prepared to look urgently at this again, and make appropriate adjustments. However, we have made a lot of progress and I acknowledge that the Government have been listening. We had a very good debate in Committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has done well to achieve such progress. Speaking for myself, were she to push this to a vote I should happily follow her into the Lobby.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions 4:00 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, these government amendments reflect exhaustive discussions in Committee, and we are happy to accept these protections covering physical and mental health, as well as the availability of childcare. We also believe it appropriate that those protections should be detailed in regulations rather than set out in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip

I am sorry, but because the Minister is going to sum up now, would the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, like to contribute?

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

No, I think it is fine.

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

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. First, I understand and thoroughly support the thrust of what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is seeking to achieve here. I should make it absolutely clear to noble Lords that we take safeguards for our customers very seriously. Advisers always try to ensure that all customers understand the conditionality on them and the good cause process. Advisers endeavour to ensure that customers have all reasonable support in place to enable them to comply with conditionality. For example, a customer with a learning disability would be able to bring a support worker or an advocate to their work-focused interview if they felt it necessary.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, if the circumstances that he outlined in his question arose where someone with a learning disability did not have somebody on hand to go with them to an interview, I could not possibly see how that individual could be sanctioned for failing to attend. We attempt to conduct a home visit to customers with a mental health condition, learning disability or condition that affects cognition, if they fail to attend their work-focused interview, in order to explain the conditionality and to rearrange it. I also take the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, made; sometimes, the community is not so supportive outwardly in helping people with some of the conditions that we are talking about, so home visits are particularly apt where that is concerned—as is the availability of translation services.

To go back to the process; if the first attempt to make contact fails, we will try for a second time. If those visits are unsuccessful, a manager will investigate the customer's situation and will make referrals to other services if appropriate. We will not sanction customers if we believe that they have not understood the requirements on them. Customers can, of course, appeal any decision to have their benefit sanctioned, although I would readily accept that for some customers, the act of appealing would simply be a step way beyond them.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

Forgive me if I have either misunderstood or not heard what the Minister has said, but was it that regulations will make it clear that if a person is suspected of having a mental health problem, a communication difficulty or, indeed, a learning difficulty, there will a requirement that every attempt is made to achieve a home visit? Is the Minister saying that regulations will specify a requirement?

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

When the Minister says that it will be clearly set down, does he mean that a requirement that every attempt is made for a home visit will be set down? I just want to get it clear about the requirement. Forgive me.

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

That is exactly right—the requirement to do so will be set down, so that it is absolutely clear for people who have to operate these arrangements. We will not sanction customers if we believe that they have not understood the requirements on them, and customers have the right of appeal. But we have common cause with the noble Lord, Lord Freud, on this—that dealing with the matter other than in primary legislation is the best way. It gives us scope for flexibility if in due course we should want to change or enhance those requirements.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, was right in saying that as regards sanctions, it will always be a decision-maker and always a Jobcentre Plus person who will ultimately deal with this. No contractors can take decisions to sanction people. Clearly, training is an important issue around that and we shall discuss it later. Clearly, issues around the number of cases of good cause should be part of a monitoring and evaluation process and I have no doubt that they will be. I hope that that explanation satisfies noble Lords and I commend the amendment.

Amendment 17 agreed.

Amendment 18

Moved by Baroness Thomas of Winchester

18: Clause 2, page 9, line 5, at end insert—

"2H Required competencies for persons exercising functions of Secretary of State

(1) Any person exercising the functions of the Secretary of State under sections 2A, 2D, 2E, 2F, in relation to income support, including any person authorised under section 2G, shall have the required competencies.

(2) The Secretary of State shall by regulations make provision for the required competencies as indicated in subsection (1).

(3) The provision which shall be made by regulations under subsection (2) shall include, in particular, provision as to—

(a) the knowledge and understanding of the needs and requirements of people with disabilities in general and with specified disabilities in particular;

(b) the courses to be undertaken by persons before such approvals are to be given and during the period for which such approvals have effect;

(c) the factors to be taken into account in determining whether persons have required competencies as mentioned in subsection (1)."

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 38 and 61. We have tabled these amendments to acknowledge the widespread concern expressed in Committee about the competence of those in positions of authority in the offices of Jobcentre Plus and the outsourced companies. The amendment requires the Secretary of State in regulations to set down what the required competences are for staff in JCP offices and those of the outsourced providers. The last thing we want is to seek to build a huge bureaucracy around training for staff in this field, but there is a great deal of disquiet about whether the rapid expansion of JCP staff has meant that their training has been compromised. Those of us who raised this issue in Grand Committee were particularly concerned that staff should be adequately trained to recognise and meet the needs of people with mental and/or physical health conditions.

Amendment 38 would ensure that any staff dealing with those customers with drug problems should have the competence to deal with them. Amendment 61 would extend the requirement to outsourced providers. In July, I wrote to the Minister about the training of personal advisers, decision-makers and disability employment advisers. His reply, a copy of which was placed in the Library, was that personal advisers complete 60 hour of induction and foundation learning. This is followed by 160 hours of learning specific to the personal adviser job. The letter goes on to talk about adviser skills workshops and something called,

"periods of supported workplace consolidation to enable advisers to effectively interview customers".

I wondered how and when all this learning can take place when JCP offices are under such pressure.

However, the Minister's letter goes on to say that the programme of "learning products" has been prioritised to enable PAs to take up their roles quickly. Cutting out the jargon, the thrust of the letter seems to be that a lot of JCP staff have been thrown on to the front line pretty quickly, with a minimum of training, and that more extensive training is being deferred until the offices are less busy. While this is understandable in the present economic climate, in the context of the Bill we hope that the wider training programme will be undertaken as soon as conditions are right. This is particularly important when there will be claimants with more barriers to work than ever before who will be in the employment group of ESA and who will be expected to be in the progression-to-work group. While some will be seen by a disability employment adviser who we hope will have training in helping those with specific health problems, such as all the myriad fluctuating conditions and those with a degree of autism or dyslexia, there will be many such claimants who see a personal adviser.

Our grouped Amendment 61 also requires the outsourced companies to ensure that their staff have adequate training to deal with their clients, who often have the most complex barriers to work. I will not mention "creaming" and "parking" again, as we have raised this problem again and again with the Minister in the context of the Flexible New Deal, and he assures us that the contracts with the outsourced companies will guard against that. We need to know that, as they will receive taxpayers' money to help clients with complex problems, and we hope they will have sufficient training for this.

The importance of sufficiently trained staff was highlighted by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its 14th report on the Bill. It says:

"The Bill expressly provides that any direction must be reasonable 'having regard to the person's circumstances'. It is unclear whether advisers will have the tools necessary to assess an individual's circumstances effectively enough to know when a particular activity is appropriate or not".

The DWP's own research suggests that even within Pathways regimes personal advisers admit lacking knowledge and understanding of mental health issues, with some saying that their initial training had not prepared them for working with people with mental health problems. We hope that individuals with disabilities will be involved in designing and delivering this training, as this has been found to be highly effective in improving understanding. The Minister knows that we have both worked on a plan that will come up very soon in a statutory instrument about a better deal for people who are doing this work.

I conclude with some information that I heard the other day from someone who was thrown off incapacity benefit but who was helped enormously by a disability benefits adviser to get on to a government programme specifically targeted at her previous profession. This changed the woman's life dramatically and she said that was eternally grateful to the adviser who was, interestingly, herself disabled. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench

My Lords, the purpose of my intervention is to speak to Amendment 18 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. Mencap, of which I am the president, has always been clear on this point. We have no problem in principle with the idea of a "rights and responsibilities" agenda, as long as we can be sure that the rights of people with a learning disability are clearly defined. By that, I mean that the Government's approach must ensure that there is absolute commitment to match increased obligations on claimants with support that is adequate and appropriate. We made that point during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2007, but it is perhaps even more important now given the increased requirements and conditionality on claimants being proposed in this Bill.

Those involved in the processes surrounding the administration of out-of-work benefits and work support, particularly in relation to sanctions and increased conditionality, must be aware of and understand the needs of people with a learning disability. Action plans, work-focused interviews and work-related activity must give due regard to the specific support needs of people with a learning disability.

While we absolutely endorse the focus of the new employment and support allowance on what people are capable of doing as opposed to what they are capable of not doing, it is clearly the case that work advisers need to understand the specific support needs of people with a learning disability. Indeed, as a starting point, they must first understand what a learning disability is. All too often, a learning disability is confused or conflated, particularly in terms of the gathering of statistics, with mental health conditions or certain learning difficulties including, for example, dyslexia. This is unhelpful, both in gathering accurate information about where people with a learning disability are in the system, and in recognising the very different support needs of someone with a learning disability compared to those of someone with a learning difficulty—say, someone with dyslexia or a mental health condition.

It is a concern, therefore, that the guidance which is provided for Jobcentre Plus personal advisers does not separate out learning disabilities as a distinct group, but incorporates this group within the "low ability" section, where there is reference to specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. I worry that this may confuse things even further. I have always understood dyslexia to be a learning difficulty, not a learning disability. I wonder whether the Government have considered, in relation to learning disabilities, what is already being done for people with mental health conditions.

I remember, back in May, the Government announcing the introduction of a new network of mental health co-ordinators at all jobcentres. I wonder whether a similar model is being considered in respect of people with a learning disability. It would seem to be a very positive move, which would ensure expertise in learning disabilities throughout all jobcentre districts. This would certainly be in line with the commitments outlined in the Government's employment strategy for people with a learning disability, Valuing Employment Now, which states that the Government will ensure that personal advisers in both Jobcentre Plus and its partners are obliged to work with customers with learning disabilities and that Department for Work and Pensions programmes and staff training meet the needs of all disabled people, including those with moderate and severe learning disabilities.

My remaining concern on this point is that a lack of such understanding could potentially result in work advisers prescribing an activity that is unsuitable for someone with a learning disability, or which someone with a learning disability does not understand how to fulfil, and so on. I wonder whether this is likely to be even more of an issue with the contracting out of employment provision, as per the prime provider model. Once again, any reassurances that the Minister may be able to provide on this matter would be most welcome.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions 4:15 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, on opening up this area for debate. I will try to spell out the approach of these Benches to the amendment. If you visit a contractor of Welfare to Work on the ground, they will show you a wedge of paper that they have to assemble—with all the ticks in the right boxes—to be paid for finding someone a job. It is clear that we are paying large sums of money for paperwork, rather than for provision that will change people's lives. That is what happens when we insert protections, requirements and necessary procedures. They have to be complied with; the fact that they have been completed has to be recorded; and then they have to be checked.

Let me declare my hand: I hope that in this country we will soon have extensive programmes to help people with disabilities back into the workplace, and that we will have a national system which ensures that substantial sums are spent to help the very hardest-to-help back into sustained economic activity. That system will and must be based largely on payment by results. The key will be to ensure that the incentives are aligned in such a way that absolutely the right interventions are applied to get people back into the workplace. I have no doubt that many of the people involved in this effort will be highly trained, and the most successful providers seem to be moving up the quality chain in terms of personnel. There may well be a range of initiatives available; I am thinking, for instance, of the creation of an institute that will raise standards and capability in this rapidly growing industry. However, if we impose top-down training standards on those providers, we will distort the pure focus on successful work placement in favour of another paper chase. We would like to see money spent on interventions, not on filling out paper forms. While these amendments are clearly tabled with the best of intentions, I am afraid that they may prove counterproductive.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling these amendments and to all noble Lords who have spoken to them. I was interested to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, has plans, should he ever be given the opportunity to implement them, to spend large sums on national programmes. Perhaps this is not the occasion to pick over issues around the fiscal stimulus, who refused to support it and what that means, because you must not only will the ends but will the means as well, and that has been somewhat lacking in the noble Lord's party.

Everyone would agree that you do not want to have bureaucratic systems in place that are there for the sake of it, but there are real issues about monitoring. If you do not monitor things, how can you measure them and know what progress you are making? That is particularly important in relation to people with learning disabilities, disabled people and people with mental health conditions. I do not know how many years you would have to think back to a time before we started to monitor issues around ethnicity. Until we started to do that, you could not properly determine what was happening, where to target resources and where help and support were most needed. I take the point that being overly bureaucratic in requiring top-down rigid structures of training to fit everyone is not necessarily the right thing to do, but there is a balance to be struck here.

Amendments 18, 38 and 61, which seek to ensure that advisers, discharging functions of the Secretary of State in relation to key aspects of the administration of income support, JSA and ESA regimes, including work-focused interviews and work-related activity, are adequately trained and meet required competencies, which it is proposed would be outlined in secondary legislation. I hope to persuade noble Lords that these amendments are unnecessary.

As has been said, we discussed this subject at some length in Committee. I hope to reassure noble Lords that we take the training of personal advisers extremely seriously and believe that it is critical to the success of our back-to-work programmes. In previous debates I have set out some of the steps that the department already takes in this area; today I can also provide noble Lords with some further developments, which I hope will further reassure.

As we have previously discussed, Jobcentre Plus advisers working with IB and ESA claimants already have considerable training in dealing with customers with a range of health conditions. All the organisations that deliver provider-led pathways have equally given specific training to their staff, to assist them in dealing with customers with learning disabilities and mental health conditions. They also have links to specialist subcontractors, to which clients with specific medical conditions can be referred for additional assistance.

Jobcentre Plus keeps its learning and development of advisers constantly under review. We are undertaking a review of the training for all its IB advisers and ESA advisers, which will be completed by the autumn. Since April 2009, all Jobcentre Plus staff have also been supported by a new performance management system, which aims to ensure that they have the right skills to carry out their roles. This includes a new national competency framework for all operational staff.

In addition, Jobcentre Plus is reviewing its options for adviser accreditation. We are exploring how we can link the acquisition of a professional qualification to the successful completion of the learning and development that advisers currently undertake. This will ensure that the skills that personal advisers acquire are externally benchmarked and will enable us to measure our adviser capability through a recognised framework.

Within the procurement process of our back-to-work programmes, we ensure that we contract only with providers that have trained staff. For instance, in the provider-led pathways invitation to tender, we asked bidders to describe the relevant skills or experience of their employees or subcontractors to enable them to deliver the provision effectively and address the specific needs and barriers of their customers. We also asked for specific information on the roles, qualifications and experience required for each post needed to deliver the provision. In addition, the procurement processes have requirements within the terms and conditions of contracts for contractors to satisfy themselves that their employees are suitable in all respects to deliver the programme.

The DWP does not require contracted providers to deliver specific training to their personal advisers, as we believe that this allows our providers the flexibility to deliver the training that they feel most suits the needs of their customers. However, I reassure noble Lords that all providers are subject to external inspection by Ofsted in England and Estyn in Wales to ensure that they provide a quality service to our customers. We are working with HM Inspectorate of Education to align Scotland with the current arrangements in England and Wales and will introduce an inspection regime for DWP-contracted employment provision in Scotland from January 2010.

To specify to providers the exact competencies and training courses that the advisers must undertake could result in a significant increase in the contract price that the department has to pay. In some cases, the provider may not wish to agree a contract variation on this basis, which would make it difficult to progress until the contracts are ready for renewal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked what the expansion of Jobcentre Plus means for staff and whether they are being properly trained. All staff joining JCP receive appropriate training. We have implemented shortened training packages for the key job roles in all delivery arms for new staff and kept the tried and tested model that we use for delivering ESA training, which uses increased class sizes and has facilitated e-learning. This enables us to ensure that we can train the number of new recruits coming through our doors. We also routinely monitor performance down to site level. Even in these challenging times, we do not shy away from tackling individual sites whose performance is relatively poorer than others. Such sites are given priority status and singled out for specific attention and ongoing focus to drive performance back to an acceptable level. We plan to have sufficient internal capacity to provide training for 2,500 recruits per month, with in excess of 600 trainers and coaches to support the peaks of our delivery.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, spoke with his great expertise on learning disabilities about the importance of people understanding them and being able to differentiate them from other conditions, so that people are encouraged to make the right decisions about action plans or jobseeker's agreements. That is absolutely right. The suggestion that Jobcentre Plus might have a network of learning disability co-ordinators is interesting. I shall take that issue back. I know that Jobcentre Plus engages extensively with stakeholders and experts such as the noble Lord to do our best to make sure that we have full coverage of the whole range of clients whom we should serve.

I hope that I have provided some reassurance on all the issues around training. I am conscious, as ever when we have these debates, of assertions that there is not enough training or that it is not as universal or effective as it might be. We assert from the Dispatch Box on the Government's behalf that lots of investment and lots of training are taking place. No one would claim that it is perfect in every respect on every day, but there is huge effort and investment going in. Engagement with our stakeholders and the range of people whom we should serve will help to drive continuing improvements. I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions 4:30 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, I will not press it. That is why I ended my remarks with an upbeat story about the lady who was very much helped by a disability employment adviser. There are very good advisers in many jobcentres around the country, but we want to ensure that the standard is as high as it can be, particularly in the outsourced companies, about which it is difficult for us in Parliament to know because we cannot see the contracts.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that I am the last person who considers ticks in boxes in a wedge of paper to be effective training. That is the last thing that we should go for. I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said about training now being even more important with the tough conditionality regime. He made the practical point that learning disabilities are confused with learning difficulties. We know that mental health conditions are wrapped up in both those expressions. I hope that the DWP, the people who set out training and people in the outsourced companies will go to organisations such as Mencap, Mind and Rethink to learn how to deal with people with these different problems. That is what I would like them to do, rather than tick boxes in a computer programme—or "learning product" as it is now called. I hope that there will be a two-way flow between the groups and those who provide training.

I was interested to hear the Minister say that a review will be published in the autumn. I presume that we are talking about this autumn and that it is due soon, so perhaps we will be able to see it on the DWP website. I see that the Minister is nodding. I am very reassured and grateful to him for further explanations about training. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.

Amendment 19

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

19: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—

"Lone parents

(1) In section 124 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (c. 4) (conditions for income support), after subsection (1) insert—

"(1A) Regulations under paragraph (e) of subsection (1) must secure that a person who—

(a) is not a member of a couple, and

(b) is responsible for, and a member of the same household as, a child under the age of 7, falls within a category of person prescribed under that paragraph.

(1B) Subsection (1A) does not apply if regulations under subsection (4)(c) of section 1A of the Jobseekers Act 1995 containing the provision mentioned in subsection (4A) of that section are in force."

(2) In section 2A of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (c. 5) (work-focused interviews)—

(a) after subsection (2) insert—

"(2A) No requirement may be imposed by virtue of this section on a person who—

(a) is not a member of a couple, and

(b) is responsible for, and a member of the same household as, a child under the age of one.

(2B) For the purposes of subsection (2A)(b) regulations may make provision—

(a) as to circumstances in which one person is to be treated as responsible or not responsible for another;

(b) as to circumstances in which persons are to be treated as being or not being members of the same household.", and

(b) in subsection (8), after "In this section—" insert—

""couple" has the meaning given by section 137(1) of the Contributions and Benefits Act;".

(3) In section 12 of the Welfare Reform Act 2007 (c. 5) (employment and support allowance: work-focused interviews), in subsection (1)(b), at the end insert "or a lone parent of a child under the age of one".

(4) In section 13 of that Act (employment and support allowance: work-related activity)—

(a) in subsection (1), after "section 12(1)" insert ", and who is not a lone parent of a child under the age of 3,", and

(b) after subsection (6) insert—

"(6A) Regulations under this section shall include provision for securing that lone parents are entitled (subject to meeting any prescribed conditions) to restrict the times at which they are required to undertake work-related activity."

(5) In section 24 of that Act (interpretation of Part 1), after subsection (3) insert—

"(3A) For the purposes of this Part, a person is a lone parent if the person—

(a) is not a member of a couple (within the meaning given by section 137(1) of the Contributions and Benefits Act), and

(b) is responsible for, and a member of the same household as, a person under the age of 16.

(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A)(b) regulations may make provision—

(a) as to circumstances in which one person is to be treated as responsible or not responsible for another;

(b) as to circumstances in which persons are to be treated as being or not being members of the same household.""

Amendment 19 agreed.

Amendment 20 not moved.

Clause 3 : Entitlement to jobseeker's allowance without seeking employment etc.

Amendment 21

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

21: Clause 3, page 10, line 2, at end insert—

"(4A) Regulations under paragraph (c) of subsection (4) must secure that a person who—

(a) is not a member of a couple, and

(b) is responsible for, and a member of the same household as, a child under the age of 7, falls within a description of person prescribed under that paragraph.

(4B) Subsection (4A) does not apply if regulations under subsection (1)(e) of section 124 of the Benefits Act containing the provision mentioned in subsection (1A) of that section are in force."

Amendment 21 agreed.

Schedule 1 : Amendments connected to section 3

Amendment 22

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

22: Schedule 1, page 54, line 30, at end insert—

"(2A) No requirement may be imposed by virtue of this section on a person who—

(a) is not a member of a couple, and

(b) is responsible for, and a member of the same household as, a child under the age of one."

Amendment 22 agreed.

Amendment 23 not moved.

Amendments 24 to 29

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

24: Schedule 1, page 57, line 11, at end insert—

"(5) In preparing any action plan, the Secretary of State must have regard (so far as practicable) to its impact on the well-being of any child who may be affected by it.""

25: Schedule 1, page 58, line 42, after "person" insert "—

(a) "

26: Schedule 1, page 58, line 43, after "1A" insert ", and

(b) who is not a lone parent of a child under the age of 3,"

27: Schedule 1, page 59, line 16, at end insert—

"(3A) Regulations under this section must include provision for securing that lone parents are entitled (subject to meeting any prescribed conditions) to restrict the times at which they are required to undertake work-related activity."

28: Schedule 1, page 59, line 23, at end insert—

"(4A) But a direction under subsection (4) may not specify medical or surgical treatment as the only activity which, in any person's case, is to be regarded as being work-related activity."

29: Schedule 1, page 59, line 34, after "section" insert "—

"lone parent" means a person who—

(a) is not a member of a couple, and

(b) is responsible for, and a member of the same household as, a child;"

Amendments 24 to 29 agreed.

Clause 7 : Abolition of income support

Amendment 30

Moved by Baroness Turner of Camden

30: Clause 7, page 13, line 7, leave out "any category" and insert "specified categories"

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, I had intended that Amendments 30 and 31 would be grouped. Therefore, if I may, I shall speak also to Amendment 31.

Clause 7 provides for the abolition of income support. This led to considerable discussion in Grand Committee. Many of us had received letters from people—mostly women—who were concerned that they could be left with no support at all. Indeed, I had a letter from the TUC expressing similar concerns. However, the Minister assured us that this was not the case. The amendment that he has tabled goes some way towards meeting our concerns, but not altogether.

My amendment suggests that specified categories should be considered and that an order should be proceeded with only after a very thorough examination by the Social Security Advisory Committee. I think that this gives much more of an assurance to those who are concerned about the abolition of income support that this will not happen without a very thorough examination and that everything possible will be done to ensure that poor and vulnerable people will not be left without support. I am sure that it is not the intention of the Minister or the Government that such people should be left without any form of benefit. However, we do not know what the future may hold or what a future Government may decide on; they may think it necessary to bow to pressure from the electorate to save money on benefits and so on. Therefore, it would seem to be much better if there were a very firm assurance in the Bill that would reassure those who are worried about the abolition of income support that they will not be endangered in the future. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I gather that the noble Baroness would like both the amendments to be debated together and I trust that that meets with the approval of the House.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions

My Lords, I am used to the Minister leaping up whenever I try to speak, so I was deferring to him.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, is right to raise concerns about the categories of people who are left on income support. Most, as we understand it, will be carers, although there are some others. I am confident that the Government have put together detailed proposals for the timely migration of all these people. The noble Baroness's Amendment 30 gives the Minister the opportunity to put that on the record, which will be valuable.

I am not sure that Amendment 31, which the noble Baroness touched on, would in practice add much value. There would not seem to be a need for a detailed report by the Social Security Advisory Committee. Clause 7 is a mechanism by which the Secretary of State can abolish a redundant benefits structure once everyone currently on it has been migrated. I favour parliamentary oversight of this procedure but I do not see the need to add unnecessary delays and cost while reports are compiled to examine a benefit that is no longer in use.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Turner for giving us the opportunity to come back to these issues and put something clearly on the record. Indeed, I am most grateful for the vote of confidence from the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that we will deal with these things appropriately.

Amendment 30 refers to the categories of people who are currently prescribed under Section 124(1)(e) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992—in other words, the categories of people who are entitled to receive income support. The amendment would ensure that we could not move specified categories of people off income support until the Secretary of State thought it no longer appropriate for them to be entitled to income support—that is, until those groups had appropriate alternative means of support.

My noble friend tabled a similar amendment in Grand Committee, when she eloquently expressed the fears that some groups, such as carers and pregnant women, had about being moved from income support to a regime where they had to commit themselves to work-related activity or some sort of waged employment. I have previously assured noble Lords that our intention in abolishing income support is to simplify and to streamline the current complex benefits system and to make it more sensitive to people's needs.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, could the Minister hazard a guess as to when that might be?

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

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord any timeline, as he well knows. Clearly, this is not a short-term project and there are complexities around it, as he will well understand. In Grand Committee, I detailed that although people who receive income support will be moved to other benefits before it is abolished, they will not receive less money as a result and they will not be subject to the requirements based on people who are required to look for work. I repeat that assurance now.

During the passage of the Bill, we have listened to the genuine concerns of my noble friend and others and, as a result, we have put a number of safeguards in place to ensure that, before any category of person is moved from income support, there will be ample opportunity for scrutiny by the Social Security Advisory Committee and both Houses of Parliament. We have also made commitments in both Houses that income support will be abolished only when there are no longer any groups for which it is needed because alternative provision will have been made, using either the new powers in Clause 3 or other available powers. That includes carers, whom we will not move until we have looked carefully at their position as part of our work on long-term care and until we have a clear and detailed plan for the longer term which includes the right to the provision for carers. I hope those reassurances are helpful.

In Amendment 31, my noble friend touches on the role of the advisory committee. In Grand Committee, I detailed the role which I believe the advisory committee will have. I am happy to repeat that. First, any regulations made under Section 124 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 will be subject to scrutiny by SSAC as part of its duty to examine any regulations under Acts of Parliament governing social security. Where we are unable to follow that procedure, voluntary arrangements will be in place which allow us to provide SSAC with information on new legislation which would not normally fall within its remit. That includes new primary powers and the regulations made within six months of commencement of those powers.

In Grand Committee, I gave the assurance that we would pursue those arrangements in respect of his clause. I repeat that assurance here. As well as that scrutiny, we have agreed with the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee in respect of the clause, and have tabled an amendment to ensure that any order made to provide that Section 124 should cease to have effect will be subject to affirmative procedures. That will ensure there is further debate before income support can be abolished.

Finally, as I said earlier, we have made commitments in both Houses that we will abolish income support only when there are no longer any groups for which it is needed, and that includes carers. I hope that my noble friend is reassured by that. Certainly the people who make representations to her will be reassured, on reading the record, and we stand ready to do everything we can to reinforce that reassurance if my noble friend thinks it would be helpful. Accordingly, I ask her not to press her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that assurance. I have made a careful note of it because it is very important: people will only be affected where there is already appropriate alternative means of support. That is a crucial element as regards my amendments and that is why I wanted a very full examination to ensure that that happened before this was preceded with and the order was produced. In view of what my noble friend has said, for which I am very grateful, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment and I shall not move Amendment 31.

Amendment 30 withdrawn.

Amendment 31 not moved.

Amendment 32

Moved by Baroness Crawley

32: Clause 7, page 13, line 36, at end insert—

"(8A) An order under subsection (2) may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order (whether alone or with other provision) has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament."

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip 4:45 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, I am the mechanism by which my noble friend gets his breath back. During Committee in the other place, Ministers gave assurances that they would study with great care the memo from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—always a wise thing to do in government—in relation to use of the affirmative procedures in a number of areas, specifically on the clauses covering the powers to abolish income support, the changes to the Social Fund, the disclosure of information and joint birth registrations. As stated in Committee on 11 June, we have accepted all those recommendations, and this group of amendments will make the necessary changes to the Bill.

Amendments 32 and 33 deal with the delegated powers in Clause 7. As noble Lords know, this clause provides a mechanism to abolish income support once there are no longer any groups of people who require it, and enables the Government to simplify and streamline the benefit system. It outlines the conditions required before income support can be abolished, and it is only once these conditions exist that an order can be made that will effectively switch it off. In its report, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee stated that it was,

"not persuaded that the negative procedure affords an adequate level of parliamentary control".

As a result, the first of these amendments honours the assurances we gave by making it clear that any order made under subsection (2) should be subject to affirmative procedures.

Amendment 33 relates to the order-making power in Clause 7(4). The amendment provides that any orders made under this subsection remain subject to the negative resolution procedure, except where such provision is contained within the same order as provision made under Clause 7(2). In the latter case, the order would be made subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

I turn now to the provisions relating to the Social Fund. Amendment 55 relates to external provider social loans and community care grants. The effect of this amendment will be to introduce some parliamentary control over the provisions on the availability of Social Fund loans in areas where there are external provider social loans. As originally drafted, the Bill would have allowed the Government to set out the provisions on the withdrawal of Social Fund provision in directions, which are not formally laid before Parliament. This amendment ensures that, if and when these restrictions are brought in, the details will be set out in regulations subject to the negative resolution procedure.

Amendment 56 addresses regulations about unauthorised use or disclosure of information and the associated creation of offences and penalties. The effect of the amendment is to make the regulations covering the detail of the offences and penalties subject to the affirmative procedure and therefore to discussion in the House and to parliamentary approval.

Finally, Amendments 84, 90, 91 and 92 cover the joint birth registration provisions. New Section 2B(1) provides that the information to be given by a mother about her child's father will be prescribed in regulations. This information is essentially contact information enabling the registrar to contact the man concerned in those exceptional cases where a child's parents are not co-operating with each other. As currently drafted, the power to prescribe this information lies with the Registrar-General rather than the Minister and is not therefore subject to parliamentary scrutiny. However, the Delegated Powers Committee's report made clear its view that this power is substantive in nature and similar to the powers conferred by subsections (4) and (6) of new Section 2B, which are to be exercised by negative resolution procedure. The provisions under which the Minister has the power to make regulations are included in the list of relevant provisions set out in new Section 39A of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, as inserted by this Bill.

The amendments include in that list of relevant provisions the regulation-making power conferred by new Section 2B(1). They address the concerns of the committee by seeking to ensure that the information given by a mother about her child's father is prescribed by the Minister and therefore subject to the negative procedure. I beg to move.

Amendment 32 agreed.

Amendment 33

Moved by Baroness Crawley

33: Clause 7, page 13, line 37, leave out "this section is" and insert "subsection (4) is (unless a draft of it has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament)"

Amendment 33 agreed.

Amendment 34

Moved by Baroness Thomas of Winchester

34: Clause 7, leave out Clause 7

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, the House cannot get away with the abolition of income support quite so easily. Amendment 34 seeks to remove Clause 7. I know that we have spoken about this already, and the Minister has given us assurances, but I do not think that we have quite registered that this is one of the most feared parts of the Bill, and it is worth having one more go at discussing the whole clause.

The Minister made it clear that income support would not be abolished until there was no one left who needed it. The safeguards, however, are a bit too flimsy for our liking and for all those who advise us. There are just two safeguards: that income will finally be abolished by the affirmative rather than the negative procedure, and only after the Social Security Advisory Committee has produced a report. There are problems with both these propositions. First, no affirmative instrument is amendable, and votes on affirmative instruments are very rare, although they must always come before the House. Secondly, even if the SSAC produces a damming report, the Government do not always act on its advice; so the safeguards are really not worth very much at all.

As the Minister knows, there is a lot of fear that not everyone who is currently on income support will be swept up in the two major benefit groups: the claimants of the jobseeker's allowance and the employment and support allowance. The Green Paper on social care failed to give a clear lead over the long-term reform of the benefits system as it will affect carers, so their future is still uncertain. Other groups of people who may continue to need income support include couples with a child under seven; people who are awaiting transfer to the ESA but are currently on income support; perhaps a lone parent with a health problem who is therefore incapable of work and whose youngest child is 12; those caring for a child under 18 who receives the DLA and the AA; or full-time students with a hearing impairment. I could go on, but I will stop there.

These groups of people have highly specific needs, but the Government have not yet explained what will happen to their claims. A clear road map is needed for each of the affected claimant groups that tells them what benefit they should claim when they lose their income support entitlement; what the income consequences will be; what passported benefits will be protected or lost—a very important matter that is not well understood by those outside the benefits system; whether they will be subject to conditionality; whether the new "good cause" provisions in the Bill will apply to them in decisions on sanctions; and, finally, what restrictions apply to the income-based JSA that do not apply to income support. For example, a person in full-time education may be able to claim income support, but much stricter rules relate to income-based JSA. Some of the groups who may have to claim JSA without job seeking may need to acquire further skills and qualifications, and carers may have to claim JSA without having to job seek.

In Committee, it was made clear that the very title, income support, is understood, whereas jobseeker's allowance does not sound as though it encompasses anyone other than someone who is looking for a job. The Minister said:

"It is fair to say that people may be switched off from claiming just by the title, but I am sure that there are ways in which we can address that".—[Official Report, 22/6/09; col. GC 401.]

That sounds vague in the extreme. It is little wonder that there is a great deal of worry about this clause.

We are looking for a clear and detailed plan from the Government of the benefits those currently entitled to income support will have when it is abolished. Parliament should be able to scrutinise the provisions before then. I hope that the Minister may be able to give us a bit more comfort about this than he did in Committee. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, perhaps I may make a short intervention and concur with my noble friend. However, I take a different view of the criticism. This clause is completely unnecessary. I am puzzled as to why Ministers have allowed a department to bring this potential cancellation of a benefit in the indeterminate future without any more justification than anything I have heard to date.

Income support is a fundamental benefit. I was around when the then Mr Norman Fowler, now the distinguished noble Lord, Lord Fowler, spent 18 months arguing in the run-up to producing a Green Paper to get the Social Security Act 1986, which introduced income support, on the statute book. It was an absolutely textbook example of what public consultation should be. The fact that I was totally opposed to everything that was being done at the time is incidental to my argument. However, whatever view you took, you could not possibly be in any doubt about what was happening when we moved from supplementary benefit to income support.

We have a back-to-work White Paper in gestation, which is about to be published. In my experience, a White Paper normally leads to a Bill being published shortly thereafter, based on the contents of the White Paper. And here we go: although we do not know when, we might abolish income support. It is a dangerous precedent for this House to accept willy-nilly from the department, at the hands of Ministers, benefits of this significance being abolished on an affirmative order and then have the additional difficulty of putting all these welcome assurances. Assurances go some way to dealing with the incoming fire from people who are certainly disconcerted by any such prospect of this benefit being abolished.

The whole thing is an otiose contrivance. It sets a very bad parliamentary precedent. If Ministers start bringing forward benefits that they might think about abolishing in the future, we will continue to reject the clauses that purport to do any such thing. Income support is part of the new Labour Government's policy about work for those who can and the vast majority of this Bill is about that. Equally important is that it is supposed to underscore support for those who cannot work, and income support does that. It will continue to do that for hundreds of thousands, or at least thousands, of our citizens into the indeterminate future and certainly long past the next election. Yet the House is being asked to abolish a benefit on an affirmative order at some future point. It is bad practice and wholly wrong, and it is not making good use of Parliament. I think the House should reject it. I can see no purpose whatever for the clause because it is just causing trouble. I welcome the assurances we have had because they will alleviate some of the anxiety, but this is rank bad practice.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions 5:00 pm, 22nd October 2009

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has raised concerns about the operation of Clause 7, which is rather baldly entitled "Abolition of income support". That looks most alarming, but on reading the clause we see that it is basically a power for the Secretary of State to abolish a structure once no one is making any use of it. One could argue, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, has so eloquently, that it is a slightly previous piece of legislation.

We agree that the Government could state their case more clearly. We have heard the concerns caused by this clause, whose description may be strictly accurate, but for someone leafing through the Bill without reading the legalistic jargon, it has clearly proved to be quite an eye-opener. Perhaps it would help if the Minister took this opportunity to put on the record exactly what the process will be and reassure us that no one will find income support abolished while they are still on it.

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

My Lords, we have had another interesting canter around Clause 7 and all its ramifications. It can reasonably be ascertained from his contribution that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, is not particularly enamoured of this provision. I am also interested in the view of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that people casually reading the then Welfare Reform Act and coming across the provision might be alarmed by it. However, we take this issue seriously and it is clearly the cause of some concern, so let me see what I can do to help.

Clause 7 introduces our proposals to abolish income support, and in another place it was referred to as "a very big step" and "a wide-ranging power". In previous debates in your Lordships' House, it has been said that abolishing income support might take away the safety net that guarantees everyone an income. However, while I understand these real and genuine concerns, I reiterate what I said in Grand Committee and indeed repeated earlier this afternoon: this clause does not abolish income support immediately. It simply provides a mechanism for abolishing it once there are no longer any groups of people who need it. That point is central to the Government's thinking. We are not removing the safety net or undermining the role of the benefit system to support those who most need it. Provision is being made elsewhere in the Bill to ensure that when people move to other benefits, they will not receive less money as a result and they will not be subject to the requirements placed on those who are required to look for work.

I make it categorically and absolutely clear once again that it is not our intention to move carers off income support until we have looked carefully at their position as part of our work on long-term care, and until we have a clear and detailed plan for the longer term which includes the right provision for carers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, is absolutely right that when we move forward on this, of course we must set out a clear route map and destinations for the benefits that people are going to receive as an alternative, so that the protections are in place. However, we are not at that stage now because we are not that close to doing it.

The complexity of the current benefit system has been the subject of much debate in the past and I believe there is a consensus that change needs to be made. That is why this clause is so important. It will enable us to simplify and streamline the benefit system while ensuring that the change is delivered in a way that achieves both simplification and a better system for customers as well as staff. A system that allows lone parents, for example, to move through the different levels of conditionality without changing benefit will be much easier than a system which requires them to switch benefits when their youngest child reaches the age of seven, with all the complexities and problems that that can involve. Surely the noble Lord would accept that point.

During Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, questioned why we were taking the powers now to abolish a benefit when people would still be claiming it for years. It is true that we have no definitive date to finally abolish income support. This is partly because of the need for flexibility to ensure that all groups are properly provided for, but also because we firmly believe that major changes to the benefits system have to be made in stages. It is the only way to ensure safe delivery and to minimise disruption for our customers. However, we still believe it is important to set out in this Bill a clear intention to abolish income support. It will be a significant step towards a simpler, more flexible system of benefits, but a step that will be taken only within tightly defined conditions and with sufficient safeguards in place. These safeguards will ensure that before any category of person is moved from income support there will be ample opportunity for scrutiny by the advisory committee and both Houses of Parliament.

By providing these reassurances and putting in place the safeguards I have detailed, I hope I have provided the reassurances the noble Baroness seeks. I suspect they will not assuage the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, on this issue, but that is where we are.

There is a long-held aspiration of heading for a single working-age benefit, with all the personalisation and benefits that will come with it. It would be a step along the way to have two working age benefits rather than three, and that is an achievement for which we should strive. Clearly removing income support at an appropriate time, when no one is on it and we have dealt with all the benefit claimants in another way, is right. I hope the noble Baroness will not press the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and my noble friend Lord Kirkwood for his passionate speech in support of my amendment.

It is perhaps ironic that, of all the complications in the benefits system, the one benefit that is not complicated to those who receive it and is well understood is income support—yet this is the one that is to be abolished. I understand that the Minister has said that it will not be abolished until no one needs it, so it could be a structure with no one hanging off it. However, it has not convinced all those who advise us and who deal with the most complex problems. It is bad practice. We do not want future Governments to abolish something before its replacement is clear and in place.

The Minister and the House will be pleased to know that at this hour on a Thursday afternoon it would not be sensible to vote. Although there are some outside who would like us to, we would not get very far. I thank the Minister for his further remarks and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 34 withdrawn.

Clause 8 : Power to direct claimant to undertake specific work-related activity

Amendment 35 not moved.

Amendment 36

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

36: Clause 8, page 14, line 8, at end insert—

"(1A) But a direction under subsection (1) may not specify medical or surgical treatment as the only activity which, in any person's case, is to be regarded as being work-related activity."

Amendment 36 agreed.

Amendment 37

Moved by Baroness Meacher

37: Clause 8, page 14, line 15, at end insert—

"(3) Before the Secretary of State gives a direction under subsection (1) to a person with a fluctuating condition he must assess that person's condition over a period of time. For the purposes of this section a "fluctuating condition" is one in which the period of illness resulting in limitations associated with the physical or mental condition of a person are episodic in nature."

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, Amendment 37 makes provision for the assessment of fluctuating conditions over a period of time so that the capability for work of a claimant with a fluctuating condition can be properly assessed and documented. I understand that work capability assessments are generally undertaken on a single day—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—but someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, for example, who happened to be having a good day on the day of their assessment might well be deemed capable of work when an assessment a week or a month later would find serious problems that would rule out any return to work for the foreseeable future.

I know that the Minister understands perfectly well the particular needs of claimants with mental health disorders. We debated these issues at length in Committee and I certainly shall not repeat the arguments that I put forward then. Our concerns are exacerbated by the fact that, as I understand it, the assessments are turning away about 50 per cent of people who might have become eligible for employment and support allowance. How many of those claimants have fluctuating disorders? I do not know whether the Minister has any information on that. These people will become jobseeker's allowance claimants and thus subject to much more rigorous jobseeking requirements.

If people with mental health problems find their benefits sanctioned due to an inaccurate assessment, it could have very serious consequences. I speak as a chair of a mental health trust. It does not take much to knock many of our service users over the edge. If somebody who is struggling to cope on benefits and to pay their rent, council tax and bills suddenly finds that they have less money available, they will no longer be able to pay. They then receive an eviction order and they then find that they are being turned out of their home. This is not melodramatic; it is what goes on. Our social services staff spend a large proportion of their time dealing with precisely those crises of potential eviction, trying to prevent a person from losing their home. We have a unit of four staff in our housing department who do nothing else but try to make sure that our service users remain in their homes. It does not take much imagination to realise that, if a person loses their home, their first step is on to the streets and their second into one of our in-patient beds. For the whole of east London, we have something like 600 in-patient beds and some 30,000 potential in-patients. You need only a small percentage increase in the proportion of potential patients who become in-patients to create a massive problem. We simply would not cope.

I know that the aim of the Government is to ensure that claimants who are well and can work are enabled and helped to find jobs. I know that it is not their intention to drive sick people into hospital or worse. However, I want to impress on the Minister that this is not a marginal amendment; it is incredibly important, particularly so in the context of the downturn, when we are going to have to make cuts and we are going to have to fight like anything not to cut the number of our in-patient beds, which I think we will manage. However, there will be serious consequences if people with mental health disorders are wrongly assessed and fair numbers of them therefore find themselves in the situation that I have described. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has tabled this amendment, because it gives us a chance to flag up the fact that, as she said, many work capability assessments are now being "failed". These are people who find that they do not have enough points not to be required to seek work. Even people with quite severe impairments are being failed, including many with fluctuating conditions. How many representations has the DWP received about this? I have received a lot of complaints.

One provider of pathways that I visited in the summer was very concerned about the people now in the employment group of ESA. Following a work capability assessment, a lot of them are being told that they will be ready for work in six months. In some cases, the providers know that the person will need longer in the progression-to-work group before they are thrown in at the deep end of the JSA regime. If Amendment 37 was in place, a one-off snapshot by a healthcare professional would not be the only medical assessment of somebody with a fluctuating condition. I support the noble Baroness's amendment.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 5:15 pm, 22nd October 2009

I, too, support the noble Baroness's amendment. We talked earlier in the day about employment of older people. It is very often older people who are affected by fluctuating conditions. It is appropriate that consideration should be given to this amendment, which adequately expresses a situation in which someone has a condition that is, generally, a reasonable one, but who ever so often has fluctuating symptoms, which may be attributed to advancing years. They may still be able to do some form of work, but not always. It would be reasonable to expect that that should be taken into account.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions

We sympathise with the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which raises the specific problem of those suffering from episodic, fluctuating conditions. Many examples have been given of conditions such as ME and rheumatoid arthritis, which seriously affect people's ability to work who are otherwise very capable and willing and would not have any problem complying with the regime. It is our hope that the system now being put into place should be flexible enough to meet the requirements of those individuals.

While the noble Baroness is correct to draw your Lordships' attention to this issue, I question whether the amendment is, strictly speaking, necessary. New subsection (2)(a) in Clause 8 says that no direction may be given to a person to engage in work-related activity unless it is,

"reasonable, having regard to the person's circumstances".

One very much hopes that, if circumstances include a fluctuating health condition, that will naturally be taken into account. Perhaps that is yet another area in which we must turn to the Minister to give us guidance on how he will ensure that any direction made under subsection (1) will take into account the needs of individuals who suffer from the conditions that the noble Baroness described.

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

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for this amendment, which touches on an issue about which she feels passionately and on which she has long pressed the Government. I agree that it is extremely important, when issuing directions to undertake work-related activities, that personal advisers have regard to a customer's medical condition. That would include taking into account whether the condition is likely to fluctuate and the impact that this may have on the customer's ability to carry out—

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

The Minister referred to the adviser taking account of the medical condition. My understanding is that, under the new regime, the whole idea is that people's medical conditions will not be assessed. The whole point is that it is simply ability to work that is assessed. That is one of my concerns. With a condition such as schizophrenia, red lights will flash immediately; you would hope that advisers would be aware that it is a fluctuating condition and that they needed to revisit that person on a number of occasions. Am I right that those advisers will be looking not at conditions but at ability to work?

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

Am I wrong, then, to have understood that even the healthcare professionals were supposed to be assessing the capabilities to work, rather than saying, "This person has condition X"? Perhaps the Minister will correct me.

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

The noble Baroness is right; the work capability assessment is looking at how their condition impacts on their function, and what they can do. I do not know whether that helps the noble Baroness, but from that the judgment is whether somebody should be in the support group with no conditionality attached or in the work-related activity group—or, whether their circumstances are such that JSA is the more appropriate route for them. That is what the work capability drives. The noble Baroness will be aware of how that assessment process replaced the PCA when we debated what is now the Welfare Reform Act 2007, and of all the research that went into that. In a sense, that is what is being tested, because the employment and support allowance has just come to the end of its first year.

Personal advisers will have to have regard to their customers' medical condition; it is not about not taking the condition into account appropriately so much as spotting it in the first instance. There is the risk that it has been overlooked, and that inappropriate actions have therefore been requested of somebody—that is the issue.

The role of the personal adviser will include taking into account whether the condition is likely to fluctuate, and the impact that that may have on the customer's ability to carry out the direction. They must, of course, have received adequate training to enable them to do that—we are back on training. It may help to reassure the noble Baroness if I outline the safeguards built into the system that will protect customers with fluctuating health conditions. We recognise that we are expecting more of our advisers with the new conditionality reforms, and we will work with our stakeholders to identify the additional learning and development that advisers will need to apply work-related activity.

Jobcentre Plus pathways advisers receive training on a range of mild-to-moderate health conditions. In provider-led pathways areas, advisers are also trained on a range of health conditions and work with a range of specialist organisations from which advisers can receive advice and support. Jobcentre Plus personal advisers are able to seek advice from specialist disability employment advisers and work psychologists with regard to customers with complex needs. If they feel it is appropriate, advisers may refer customers with complex conditions to DEAs and work psychologists for additional advice and support.

The work capability assessment has been designed to take better account of these fluctuating conditions. In the face-to-face assessment, the healthcare professional carrying out the WCA and the work-focused health-related assessment will also analyse an individual's functional capability over time. It is not a snapshot of a person's condition on the day of the assessment. During the early stages of their claim, an ESA customer will undergo a work-focused health-related assessment completed by a healthcare professional, and a report of that assessment will be produced and sent to the customer's personal adviser. It will flag up whether the customer's healthcare condition may fluctuate, and the impact that is likely to have on them.

I can assure noble Lords that the power to direct customers to a specific activity will only be used in a small minority of cases. Advisers will always encourage, persuade and support people into activity they feel is necessary, before considering issuing someone with a direction to undertake a specific activity. As stated in Clause 8, any direction to undertake an activity "must be reasonable" and have,

"regard to the person's circumstances".

Hence, any direction to undertake an activity by the personal adviser must be appropriate to the customer's abilities and circumstances. That would include taking into account any fluctuating health condition that the customer may have. If for any reason the customer was directed into an activity which they felt was inappropriate, they could ask for the direction to be reconsidered and it would then be varied or revoked. If the customer does not comply with the requirement to undertake an activity because they were not able to do so due to the fluctuating nature of the condition, they would be able to raise this as good cause for their failure to comply. We have tabled a government amendment to ensure that the customer's disability or health condition must be taken into account as a good-cause consideration. We earlier debated the process for dealing with sanctions and the follow-up contact that must be made before people will be sanctioned. That is another route where people can be supported.

Questions were raised about the outcomes of the work capability assessment and how that is currently proceeding. Noble Lords may be aware that there were 195,000 new claims for ESA between October 2008 and February 2009, so it is early days as the system is just bedding in. Five per cent of claimants were assessed as suitable for the ESA support group and 11 per cent were assessed as suitable for the ESA work-related activity group. Thirty-six per cent were assessed as fit for work. As regards the remainder, either the assessment was not complete or the people have left the ESA and discontinued their claim.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, we do not currently know the outcome of the WCA by impairment. The assessment is based on function not condition, so it is not straightforward to get an accurate diagnosis. We are examining the situation to see whether we can break down the WCA assessment results by condition and we are looking to make further announcements in the new year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked how many representations we had received—

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

The noble Lord has indicated that I was right and that the assessments focus on capabilities rather than the condition and that therefore he does not have an analysis of the conditions. The worry is that if the focus of the assessments is on different capabilities for work rather than, say, on a person's schizophrenia, and if on the day the person appears to have all the capabilities, it will be easy to miss the fact that they are suffering from a fluctuating disorder. That is the essence of my concern.

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

I think I understand that, but is it not the case that the assessment may be one of function but that it ought to take account of the fact that someone has a fluctuating condition? It is an understanding that the assessment is carried out by professionals. I do not have the skill to know how they do it, but they are trained to spot these things. Therefore, when they assess someone's functionality—a rather unfortunate term—it should reflect the fact that someone has a health condition, has a fluctuating condition and has a—

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, what does "functionality" mean in this context?

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

It is not categorising someone with a health condition by reference to that condition, but by reference to the impact of it on what they can do—their ability to walk and sit, their dexterity and their cognitive functions. That is the essence of the WCA. Although we currently do not have a breakdown of the WCA outcomes, we are looking to see whether we can obtain that.

Ultimately, I would seek to reassure the noble Baroness that these are important issues and they should be taken into account in the processes and protections that are in place. We need to continue to be vigilant and to engage with stakeholders on it so that if the system is not working as it should, we will look to see what can be done to fix it. That is the best way forward on this.

A

Your Lorship. Any disability brings difficulties with it. Disabilities of the mind are particularly difficult for the patient, their family, and the specialising professionals. I refer in particular to long term mental illness, especially schizophrenia. Since Care in the Community has started it is obvious that further new patients with this condition would be so afflicted. In the days of the old asylums there was some work or occupation for them to undertake, which was part...

Submitted by Alix Cull Continue reading

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 5:30 pm, 22nd October 2009

I thank the Minister for his reply. I confess that I am not very reassured, because I fear that by the time people realise that the system is not working, mental health trusts up and down the country will be on their knees. Therefore, I ask the Minister to assure us that a piece of work will be undertaken to examine the relation between the assessments and whether they will effectively pick up on fluctuating disorders. It is alarming to think that the system might roll into effect without fully taking this into consideration.

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

First, I was not suggesting that the system was not working. The import of what I was trying to say was that if it was not producing the right outcomes in individual cases we should know that and try to understand how the system has not coped with those individuals. On the other point—can we do work to try to understand better how it is impacting on people?—the answer is yes. It is under way, and I will undertake to find out precisely where that is and come back to the noble Baroness.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

I am most grateful for the Minister's response and his assurance that he will look into the impact on claimants with fluctuating conditions. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 37 withdrawn.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 38 not moved.

Schedule 3 : Claimants dependent on drugs etc.

Amendment 39

Moved by Baroness Meacher

39: Schedule 3, page 72, line 14, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 73

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, in moving Amendment 39, I shall speak also to Amendments 41, 46 and 48. I shall speak first to Amendments 39 and 46, the purpose of which is to delete from the Bill the requirement to take part in drug tests to ascertain whether there,

"is or has been any drug in the person's body".

As the Bill stands, these tests would be undertaken under the threat of benefit sanctions. The tests envisaged could involve providing a urine or blood sample, semen,

"or any other tissue fluid or pubic hair ... a swab taken from any part of a person's genitals (including pubic hair) or from a person's body orifice other than the mouth".

Such legislation applying to citizens of this country who have committed no crime is in my view abhorrent. You might well ask why our soldiers landed on the beaches of Normandy. Indeed why did we fight the Second World War? Surely it was to protect the liberty of the individual against the power of the state. Compulsory drug testing outside the criminal justice system is in my view a breach of that national commitment and of everything this country fought for those many years ago.

These provisions are a potential breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and are certainly an infringement of civil liberties. I understand that the Drugs Act 2005 introduced drug testing on arrest, thus within the criminal justice system. Yet at that time the Joint Committee on Human Rights expressed its concerns about the potential breach of the convention. Here, we are talking about people who are simply seeking state financial support.

My second concern is that it is my understanding that no clinician will be willing to be involved in compulsory drug tests; they will not actually happen. Such tests would undermine any possibility of creating a good therapeutic relationship thereafter. As we have discussed, treatment depends on the client's engagement in that treatment. Trust between the doctor and the patient is absolutely paramount.

My other and quite different concern is that a test at a single point in time will not tell you anything about whether a person takes drugs regularly or merely occasionally. As indicated in the Bill, a series of tests would in fact be necessary, multiplying the assault and the problems that I have referred to.

Also, these tests will not indicate whether any drug-taking is hindering the person's capacity to work. I happen to know a number of people who take drugs on a fairly regular basis—one or two of them on a very regular basis—yet they work perfectly effectively. The fact is that it is possible. I have never done it myself, but I know others who do. All that the tests will tell you is that, at those points in time, the claimant had a particular substance in their blood. Such tests would therefore serve no purpose. My related point is that the paragraph as it stands is, in some sense, inaccurate. Drug tests will not, as paragraph 3 suggests, ascertain whether there has been any drug in the person's body, whether the drug is in their blood or urine at the time of the test or not.

Finally, drug tests can be inaccurate. They can pick up perfectly legitimate substances and identify them as being in the class of an illegal drug. For all these reasons, I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to reconsider paragraph 3 and agree to its removal from the Bill. I beg to move.

A

It is my opinion that the term drugs has also become used in referring to essential medication. I consider drugs to be of the illicit variety which damage our society, and also spark off mental illness (I think this has now been proved)
With regard in particular to schizophrenia it is essential that the patient continues to take their medication in order that they are able to function in a reasonable fashion. These medications, of which there are a number, may produce side effects. If the side effects are so bad that they make the patient feel worse, the patient will stop taking them, and probably because of lack of insight, which is a feature of schizophrenia, have a relapse to the florid state of illness. For full information about this illness I would refer all with any such connection, particularly carers, to www.schizophreniawatch.co.

Submitted by Alix Cull

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour

Amendment proposed: on page 72, line 14, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 73.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, these amendments are all linked. Two relate to drug tests and there are two others, so I think I now need to introduce my other two amendments. I will speak now to Amendments 41 and 48.

Noble Lords:

Oh!

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

I am sorry; I do not know what the best way forward is. This is beyond my experience. Shall I continue?

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton - Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Also Shadow Minister for Women), Health, Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions

My Lords, the noble Baroness will have to move the other amendments in their place in the Marshalled List.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach - Shadow Minister (Also Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions), Shadow Minister

My Lords, I think the amendment has been moved and the decision needs to be determined by the House.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, can I just move Amendments 39 and 46, and ungroup the other two and debate them subsequently?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Baroness may not move them but she may speak to them.

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

My Lords, if it will help, as I understand the position, the noble Baroness has moved Amendment 39. Therefore, we need to debate it and we can pick up the other amendments subsequently.

The procedure is a little tricky because I have a statement which I need to read verbatim. It picks up the broader issues but since we are, I think, debating Amendment 39 and related matters, that is what I will do. I thank the noble Baroness for tabling Amendment 39 and, indeed, Amendment 46, which would remove from Schedule 3 the provisions that could require claimants of jobseeker's allowance and employment and support allowance to undergo a drug test.

Amendments 41 and 48, which we have yet to debate officially, remove the requirement to comply with a rehabilitation plan and the requirement to submit to treatment. Instead, they require a claimant to attend an assessment for drug treatment. Schedule 3 allows for the introduction of a new regime, which will provide personalised, integrated support to help drug users claiming JSA or ESA to overcome their drug dependence and gain employment. Regulations will initially provide that this applies to heroin and crack cocaine users. Extension to other drugs and alcohol could be considered later. Since our debate in Grand Committee we have listened to the concerns that were expressed and decided that we will keep drug testing in the Bill, but will further limit the circumstances in which it will apply.

The Bill already provides that a person can be required to undergo a drugs test only where they fail to attend a substance-related assessment without good cause. However, as a matter of policy, they will not be used in cases where claimants are already in drug treatment, have self-identified their drug misuse or were referred to a substance-related assessment on the strength of information obtained from the criminal justice system. The substance-related assessment provides a gateway to accessing specialised support to overcome drug dependency, address other barriers to work and, when they are ready, prepare for work. It is therefore important that those people who do need support are identified, and do attend. Therefore, I consider this approach is justified. For many, this will be the first step towards overcoming their addiction. I reassure noble Lords that a positive test result will not be used in isolation to decide that a claimant is a problem drug user. A drug test could, if positive, add weight and support to the adviser's decision to refer to the specialised support they need.

I appreciate that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords have strong concerns about mandatory rehabilitation plans and the provisions which require a claimant to submit to treatment. We debated these provisions at length in Grand Committee. We have listened to the specific issues that were raised and respect the strength of feeling displayed on these matters. Therefore, I hope that I can provide some reassurances. We have never intended that paragraph 6 would be used to force people into specific forms of treatment. Under paragraphs 6(4) and 6(5), it is only possible to require a claimant to attend an institution or treatment centre for treatment under the direction of a professional. However, we have brought forward an amendment to Clause 9, which makes it clear on the face of the Bill that regulations must provide that a person is not required to submit to medical treatment. I hope this change will allow your Lordships to be more comfortable about the requirement to comply with a rehabilitation plan.

As with any type of health treatment, the patient will need to give informed consent before any medical treatment could be undertaken. If they give such consent, it will go into their rehabilitation plan only if they agree to it being there. So if they decide not to take up medical treatment, that will be accepted. However, we would still require them to engage. This could be in the form of educational sessions, self-esteem counselling and confidence-building. Sanctions would arise if the claimant refused to engage at all. It is important that those identified as problem drug users take the first steps on the journey to overcome their addiction. The Government will ensure that support and treatment are available.

All drug users with an identified dependency on, or a propensity to misuse, drugs will be required to follow the rehabilitation plan where this is a factor affecting their ability to obtain or remain in work, and their condition requires and is susceptible to treatment. If they fail to do so without good cause, they will be subject to benefit sanctions. If rehabilitation plans were made optional, as also suggested by these amendments, it is possible that those furthest from the labour market will be those who choose not to have one. This would mean that they would lose the opportunity to obtain other personalised support to overcome barriers to work. This would include support around housing, debt, and employment skills delivered by providers who are experienced in dealing with difficulties faced by problem drug users. Without a rehabilitation plan, JSA claimants would continue to be subject to the mainstream jobseeking conditions. They will continue to struggle to satisfy job search and signing-on requirements and as a result may well face regular benefit sanctions.

Regulations around rehabilitation plans will be introduced by regulations subject to the affirmative parliamentary procedure, so both Houses will have an opportunity to consider and debate them. The regulations will include safeguards to ensure that the requirements are proportionate to our aims and compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, I sense from our discussions today—I am sure that the noble Baroness will advance other arguments in this regard—that these reassurances may not be sufficient, and that a regime which involves coercion into any form of treatment or rehabilitation plan remains of deep concern. I am, therefore, willing to take on board the thrust of the amendment and, if they are moved, her other amendments, and will consider between now and Third Reading how we can reflect what they try to achieve. With those reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendments. I do not want to end up in a situation where process precludes us from coming back to this at Third Reading. I do not propose to move the amendments in my name in the next group and shall come back with them at Third Reading.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 5:45 pm, 22nd October 2009

I am grateful for the Minister's response, although he will know that I am bitterly disappointed with the response that he has necessarily given on drug testing. I will not seek a Division of the House this evening, but if we cannot achieve the elimination of paragraph 3 of new Schedule A1 and paragraph 6 of new Schedule 1A in time for Third Reading, then I shall seek the support of all sides of the House to eliminate compulsory drug testing for people dependent on drugs. That is all I wish to say about Amendments 39 and 48. I hope that I shall have an opportunity to address subsequent amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 39 withdrawn.

Amendment 40 not moved.

Amendment 41

Moved by Baroness Meacher

41: Schedule 3, page 74, line 12, leave out from beginning to end of line 39 on page 75 and insert—

"Requirement to attend an assessment for treatment

6 (1) Regulations may make provision for or in connection with imposing on a person a requirement to attend an assessment for treatment.

(2) Regulations under this paragraph must include provision for the requirement mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) to be imposed on a person only if, as a result of an assessment carried out under regulations under paragraph 2, the Secretary of State is satisfied that—

(a) the person is dependent on, or has a propensity to misuse, any drug, and

(b) the person's dependency or propensity is a factor affecting the person's prospects of obtaining or remaining in work.

(3) The requirements are that during the specified period (which may not exceed 52 weeks or, if the case is exceptional, 104 weeks) the person—

(a) must attend an assessment for treatment by or under the direction of a person having the necessary qualifications or experience,

(b) must take part in specified interviews, and specified assessments, at specified places and times, and

(c) must take such other steps (if any) as may be specified, with a view to the reduction or elimination of the person's dependency on, or propensity to misuse, the drug in question.

(4) Regulations under this paragraph may, in particular, make provision—

(a) for suspending any jobseeker's agreement to which a person is a party for any period during which the person has consented to a rehabilitation plan;

(b) for securing that a person who is required to comply with an assessment for treatment provides information, and such evidence as may be prescribed, as to compliance with the assessment.

(5) A jobseeker's allowance may also be known as a "treatment allowance" at any time when—

(a) it is payable in respect of a person who is consenting to a rehabilitation plan (or would be so payable if compliance with the plan is assumed), or

(b) it is payable in respect of a joint-claim couple both members of which are consenting to comply with a rehabilitation plan (or would be so payable if compliance with the plans is assumed).

(6) Regulations under this paragraph may not impose a requirement on a person at any time unless the person would (apart from the regulations) be required to meet the job seeking conditions at that time.

(7) Regulations under this paragraph must include provision for securing that a person is not required to submit to medical or surgical treatment without the person's consent."

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 48. The purpose of the amendments is to replace paragraph 6 in new Schedule Al and delete paragraph 3 of new Schedule 1A. These paragraphs as they stand provide for compulsory treatment under a threat of benefits sanctions for claimants dependent on or with a propensity to misuse any drug.

I pay tribute to the Minister and to the Bill team for the work that they have done to make possible the tabling of government Amendment 42 .That amendment provides that regulations must ensure that no claimant covered by Schedule 3 is required to submit to medical or surgical treatment without the person's consent. The Government have thus agreed to the principle that no claimant, including those dependent on or with a propensity to misuse of any drug, should be subjected to compulsory treatment under the welfare reform legislation. Clinicians and patients up and down the country can breathe a sigh of relief that they will not be involved in a benefits-based compulsory treatment regime.

My amendments seek to resolve the inconsistencies that the Government's amendment leaves in paragraphs 6 and 3 of the new schedules. Anyone reading those paragraphs will quickly realise these contradictions. For example, sub-paragraph (2) states:

"Regulations under this paragraph must include provision for the requirement mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) to be imposed on a person", and so on. Sub-paragraph (4) states:

"The requirements are that during the specified period ... the person ... must submit to treatment".

Likewise, sub-paragraph (5) states:

"The required treatment for any particular period", and so on.

I am sure that all sides of the House will welcome the government amendment on this crucial issue. It brings the Welfare Reform Bill into line with the Mental Health Act. However, in view of the consensus on this issue, I will not repeat the arguments which we rehearsed at length in Committee in favour of the principle of treatment based on the consent of the claimant. My amendment brings the rest of paragraph 6 into line with the government amendment. It replaces compulsory treatment with a requirement to attend an assessment for treatment. This brings sub-paragraph (4) into line with the government amendment. Much of the rest of paragraph 6 then becomes redundant.

I have redrafted parts of paragraph 6 to reflect the intentions of the Bill, while taking on board that treatment will not be required by the DWP, but will be subject to the consent of the claimant. My assumption is that treatment will, if possible, follow an assessment and will be a matter between the clinician and the claimant. Therefore, all the references in paragraph 6 to the requirements for treatment and the directions to the DWP are inappropriate—and they are certainly inappropriate in the context of the government amendment. Therefore something needs to be done.

I emphasise that the provision in the Bill for claimants dependent on drugs to be required to attend an assessment for treatment would be a radical departure from any benefits regime that we have had to date. It would offer the possibility of engaging claimants who hitherto have been excluded and very difficult to engage with services. Once they are involved in an assessment, there is a realistic prospect that many will become involved in a treatment or rehabilitation programme. Some may take time to sign up to the rigours of such a programme. After all, the process of withdrawal from hard drugs is a painful and unpleasant experience; but at least they will be on the road towards recovery, a healthy life and self-sufficiency once they put their foot through the door for an assessment for treatment. That is the first step. Without it, we get nowhere, but with it, I would be optimistic.

This is a constructive and realistic approach to a significant health problem that has been neglected for too long by successive Governments, at vast cost to the taxpayer. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour

My Lords, if Amendment 41 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 42 to 44 because of pre-emption.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, will the Minister reassure me? I declare an interest as a recently appointed lay member of the General Medical Council. Listening to the argument, I have become very concerned. Will the Minister give me an absolute assurance that no one registered with the General Medical Council will be invited to apply treatment to patients who do not want the treatment? It would be contrary to their registration with the GMC.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.

Amendments 42 and 43

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

42: Schedule 3, page 74, line 46, at end insert—

"(5A) Regulations under this paragraph must include provision for securing that a person is not required to submit to medical or surgical treatment without the person's consent."

43: Schedule 3, page 75, leave out lines 9 to 11

Amendments 42 and 43 agreed.

Amendments 44 to 48 not moved.

Amendments 49 and 50

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

49: Schedule 3, page 82, line 42, at end insert—

"(5A) Regulations under this paragraph must include provision for securing that a person is not required to submit to medical or surgical treatment without the person's consent."

50: Schedule 3, page 82, leave out lines 45 to 47

Amendments 49 and 50 agreed.

Amendment 51 not moved.

Amendment 52

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

52: Schedule 3, page 84, line 28, at end insert—

"(aa) in paragraph 10A(1), which is inserted by section (Good cause for failure to comply with regulations etc)(2), after "13" insert "or Schedule 1A","

Amendment 52 agreed.

Amendment 53 not moved.

Clause 14 : External provider social loans

Amendment 54

Moved by Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope

54: Clause 14, page 18, line 31, at end insert—

"( ) specify the appeals process that will apply to applicants whose application for a loan from an external provider is refused."

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I would that I had more time to expand on this but at this stage in the day I hope that I can dispatch this amendment with some expedition. However, I want to say in passing that for me this is potentially quite a serious issue.

By way of background, as the House will know, since December 2008 the Government have been promoting, if that is the right word, a consultation on the future of the Social Fund. The Social Fund is an absolutely crucial element in providing a safety net for low-income families. In Amendment 54, I am particularly concerned with the discretionary element of the Social Fund, which deals with the provision of budget loans, crisis loans and community care grants. Noble Lords will know how important they are. They are discretionary and in the recent past they have provided a lifeline to many families. Particularly in relation to the discretionary elements of the Social Fund, the review process, both internally within the department and externally with the independent review service, has been absolutely crucial in underpinning people's rights, dealing with appeals properly and establishing an ongoing review of how the fund is working.

I do not know where we are in relation to the consultation and whether the back-to-work White Paper will deal with the future of the Social Fund more generally, but that is not my purpose this afternoon. My purpose is simply to advert to the fact that the Government are struggling to move in the direction that they originally indicated. Early indications were that the Government were looking for other organisations to offer credit to customers. It came as no surprise to me that people were not killed in the crush in coming forward to deal with low-income families who are struggling and are therefore technically very bad credit risks when viewed from a commercial loans point of view. Ministers rather optimistically hoped that they would be able to get interest rates at 26 or 27 per cent. However, the KPMG study conducted for the department in November 2008 found that the interest rate would need to be something like 37 or 38 per cent before you could even get anyone interested in coming to serve that need in the market. I do not know where the generality of the consultation and the future of the Social Fund lie; I say only—and I say it with complete compassion and conviction—that it is a quintessentially important part of our existing system.

That brings me to the content of Amendment 54. I am considerably concerned at the prospect of any future changes to the Social Fund ending up with the external provider of Social Fund loans not being part of the external review fund that we have at the moment. I know Sir Richard Tilt well, as do other colleagues. He has had a very distinguished career as the Social Fund Commissioner, which I think is about to come to an end. He is a serious man and he knows the system thoroughly. He has been an advocate of the process of external review continuing via the system that exists and, for my money, if someone such as that says to me, "This is not a safe change to contemplate", that is a matter of concern which I hope colleagues in the House will share.

I noticed that the former Minister, Kitty Ussher, made a statement in a letter to the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, saying:

"External Provider Social Funds Loans will not be part of the Social Fund, therefore they will not be subject to the current Social Fund internal review process or to the independent review provided by the independent review service".

Instead, the Minister suggested that any reviewer complaint process would be covered by Financial Services Authority legislation. I am not an expert on that legislation but I think it covers organisations like Lehman Brothers and the Halifax Building Society. The regulations in the provisions for protection for consumers in that context are in a different universe from the kind of low-income families that have to make applications to the Social Fund. I find it incredible that that suggestion was ever made by a Minister representing the DWP, although she was not a Minister for very long. It is frightening.

This amendment underlines the importance of the confidence that the independent review service brings to the implementation of the Social Fund, particularly a discretionary Social Fund which is complex but provides an absolutely vital safety net for low-income families in this country. It should not be changed, altered or abandoned without serious consideration being made to provide a system of review. If it is not Sir Richard Tilt and his heirs and successors, it should be something equivalent to an independent review. Certainly, the Financial Services Authority is not a mechanism in which I would have any confidence for doing that. That is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions 6:00 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, has raised the question of appeals should someone be rejected for a loan by an external provider. A similar amendment was spoken to in Committee on 30 June, a debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. That debate served as a hook for a rather more general debate on the role of external providers. We learnt some useful information from the Minister, including the fact that it will be made clear in the invitation to tender documentation that any external provider of social loans must have a complaints procedure. That would be regulated by the FSA and there would also be the option of complaining to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, pointed out that external providers would need to be able to provide, as a flipside to a complaints procedure, the capacity to give detailed advice about the benefit system in the first place. The issue of how to complain is a pertinent one. It would be ideal if, from the outset, we could ensure that we have adequate information in place, as that will help to cut down the number of complaints. In Committee, my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach expressed sympathy for the Liberal Democrats' amendment. It does not seem unreasonable to have thought carefully in advance about how to deal with problems which will inevitably arise. Having the facility to make a complaint is different from having the right to appeal. Can the Government furnish us with more details of the complaints procedure that, in negotiations, they will seek from external providers?

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for tabling this amendment and for outlining the background to it. I appreciate that he is seeking to ensure that an individual who may be refused a loan by an external provider would have a clear route through which he could challenge that decision. It is our intention that any external provider of social loans should have a complaints procedure, as the noble Lord, Lord Freud, acknowledged. That procedure could respond to both complaints of a customer-service nature and requests for a decision on a loan to be revisited. We would make that clear in our tendering documentation and it would be one of the criteria to be met by any successful bidder. We have said that we will introduce external-provider social loans only if and when the time is right, and that we will consult further on the detail of how any external-provider loans might work before we even think about introducing them, so we are some way back from going live on that. The Bill sets out the high-level arrangements for external provider social loans, and I believe it will be clear to us all that the fully developed scheme will be complex. We have never said otherwise.

It is clear from the brief exchanges today and at previous stages of the Bill that this is an area of particular concern to noble Lords, who would prefer to see more detail now. However, I do not think that specifying in the Bill the need for arrangements to include an appeals process for decisions that may be made by a provider or providers yet to be appointed is really the best way forward. However, I assure noble Lords that we will take this concern into account and look closely at arrangements for reconsidering a decision by an external provider. Those arrangements must reflect the options chosen in respect of the rest of the scheme.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, referred to the consultation. We expect to consult in the near future—that is, before spring—and separately from any other consultation. I am conscious that that is not the detail the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Freud, are seeking, but it is where we are. We are some way from this going live.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, but I am less than happy with that answer. I think that to have been consulting since December 2008 and coming to the Dispatch Box to say that it will last until 2010 is a bit week-kneed. Speaking for myself, unless someone of Sir Richard Tilt's experience and authority in this field can be persuaded that what the Government have got to put in place as an appeals service passes his test, it will not pass mine. I will continue to raise this issue because it is of fundamental importance to the future of the Social Fund or any successor scheme. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 54 withdrawn.

Clause 15 : Power to restrict availability of social fund loans

Amendment 55

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

55: Clause 15, page 20, line 2, leave out from beginning to "may" and insert "Regulations"

Amendment 55 agreed.

Amendment 56

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

56: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—

"Regulations relating to use or disclosure of information: parliamentary control

In section 190 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (parliamentary control of orders and regulations), in subsection (1), before the "or" at the end of paragraph (ab) insert—

"(ac) regulations under section 122G(4) or 122H(5) which create an offence or increase the penalty for an offence;"."

Amendment 56 agreed.

Amendment 57

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

57: After Clause 19, insert the following new Clause—

"Power to up-rate benefits following review in tax year 2009—10

In relation to the review under subsection (1) of section 150 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (annual up-rating of benefits) in the tax year ending with 5 April 2010, the other provisions of that section are to have effect as if—

(a) after subsection (2) there were inserted—

"(2A) Where it appears to the Secretary of State that the general level of prices is no greater at the end of the period under review than it was at the beginning of that period, the Secretary of State may, if the Secretary of State considers it appropriate having regard to the national economic situation and any other matters which the Secretary of State considers relevant, lay before Parliament the draft of an up-rating order—

(a) which increases by such a percentage or percentages as the Secretary of State thinks fit any of the sums mentioned in subsection (1); and

(b) stating the amount of any sums which are mentioned in subsection (1) but which the order does not increase.",

(b) in subsection (5), after "(2)" there were inserted "or (2A)", and

(c) in subsection (6)—

(i) after "(2)" there were inserted "or (2A)", and

(ii) after "requires" there were inserted "or authorises"."

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

My Lords, this amendment is intended to give the Government the flexibility to uprate the basic state pension by the commitment of 2.5 per cent and to uprate other social security benefits as the Secretary of State thinks fit, even though the level of prices, as measured by the retail prices index, has not increased.

Announcements of the following year's benefit rates are made at the Pre-Budget Report and the subsequent uprating statement. The proposed rates of benefit that will apply from 2010 will be announced in the normal manner. Noble Lords will therefore appreciate that I am not in position to pre-empt those announcements in our deliberations on this amendment. That said, as the Chancellor made clear in this year's Budget, the Government's commitment to increase basic state pension annually by a minimum of 2.5 per cent stands, and other benefits will not be reduced in the event of negative inflation. The new clause proposed by this amendment allows the Government to fulfil their promise to pensioners.

It may helpful to noble Lords if I give a brief technical explanation of why we have tabled this amendment. The proposed new clause is inserted into the Social Security Administration Act 1992. This provision dates back to the mid-1970s, a time of double-digit inflation, when the likelihood of negative inflation is unlikely to have been at the forefront of the draftsman's mind. Section 150 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 requires that the Secretary of State reviews the rates of benefits and pensions in each year to establish whether they have kept their purchasing power. Where the general level of prices has increased, the Secretary of State is required to lay the draft of an uprating order. Since the power was introduced, the benchmark for the review of prices has been the retail prices index. Since 1980, the reference point has been the retail prices index for September, which this year is minus 1.4 per cent. This technical amendment, for 2010 only, allows the Secretary of State to make an uprating order in the absence of an increase in prices, as measured by the retail prices index, and to deliver the increase in the basic state pension from April, which will be worth around £1 billion to pensioners over the year.

The amendment makes a change to Clause 51 and ensures that the new power will come into force on Royal Assent. It will therefore allow there to be a benefit uprating for April 2010 in line with the normal uprating timetable. I feel sure that this will have the full support of noble Lords. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

My Lords, I obviously acknowledge the need to ensure that the upratings statement is adequate for the purpose, but I can in no way understand the technical explanation. The 1992 Act sets out some requirements in the uprating provisions and sets some thresholds to which the Government must respond. However, the Government can do whatever they choose. The Chancellor could decide in the Pre-Budget Statement to increase pensions to any level he likes as long as he respects the thresholds that were set in the 1992 Act; so it completely puzzles me that Parliament feels it must take this power in this clause. It is obviously welcome, and I am not against it—indeed, anyone who is against smaller pensions really would be quite perverse—but I do not understand why this power is required.

Incidentally, although I will not do so because it is too late, I could go into my usual rant about the difference between earnings and the retail price index, which over years prejudices low-income families consistently and widens the income gap. Indeed, there is evidence that that is continuing apace and will get worse. This clause and other clauses are otiose. If the Government used their power significantly, sensibly and fairly, they would grab the opportunity at the Pre-Budget Statement to increase the pension to a sensible level that would redress some of the losses that household incomes have suffered in the past. I do not understand the technical explanation or the need for the clause.

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

My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord by going over this again. The point is that, in the current provisions under which the Secretary of State can deal with changes to pensions, where the general level of prices has increased the Secretary of State is required to lay the draft of an uprating order. If the level of prices has not increased, that power cannot operate, so this mechanism is needed to enable there to be an increase when the RPI goes down. It is relatively straightforward to my mind.

The noble Lord drifted into what he called a rant—not a term that I would use, of course—about earnings. The Government's commitment is to increase the pension by 2.5 per cent, which is greater than current levels of earnings increases. In the period 1997 to date, pensioners have done better in aggregate than they would have done from a simple uprating of the basic state pension by earnings. He will also be well aware that we legislated in 2007 on linking again the basic state pension to earnings.

The noble Lord asserted that we should have a Pre-Budget Report with huge increases in pensions. I guess that that is just another Lib Dem uncosted proposal, and I do not know whether he has checked that with his leader, Nick Clegg.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

My Lords, maybe my noble friend will agree that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, thinks that the basic state pension is what his leader assumed it to be; namely, £30 a week.

Amendment 57 agreed.

Amendment 58

Moved by Baroness Crawley

58: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—

"Exemption from jobseeking conditions for victims of domestic violence

In Schedule 1 to the Jobseekers Act 1995 (c. 18) (supplementary provisions), after paragraph 8A insert—

"8B (1) This paragraph applies if domestic violence has been inflicted on or threatened against a person ("V") in prescribed circumstances.

(2) The Secretary of State must exercise the powers to make regulations under sections 6(4) and 7(4) so as to secure that, for an exempt period, V is treated as—

(a) being available for employment; and

(b) actively seeking employment.

(3) If V has not entered into a jobseeker's agreement before the exempt period begins, the Secretary of State must also exercise the power to make regulations under section 9(10) so as to secure that V is treated as having entered into a jobseeker's agreement which is in force for the exempt period.

(4) In this paragraph—

"domestic violence" has such meaning as may be prescribed;

"exempt period" means a period of 13 weeks beginning no later than a prescribed period after the date (or last date) on which the domestic violence was inflicted or threatened.

(5) Regulations may make provision for the purposes of this paragraph prescribing circumstances in which domestic violence is, or is not, to be regarded as being inflicted on or threatened against a person.""

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip 6:15 pm, 22nd October 2009

My Lords, in Grand Committee, the Government were pressed by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, and many other noble Lords on the important issue of support for jobseekers under threat of domestic violence. The Government were persuaded by the force of the arguments so skilfully presented and on 2 July my noble friend announced in Grand Committee that we would bring forward a government amendment to address this issue.

Amendment 58 inserts a new paragraph into Schedule 1 of the Jobseekers Act 1995, which will introduce an automatic 13-week exemption from the jobseeker's allowance conditionality rules for victims of domestic violence. It will place in the Bill a provision to ensure that such victims will be able to receive jobseeker's allowance without being required to comply with the jobseeking requirements. They would not be required to enter into a jobseeker's agreement if one is not already in place, would not be required to be available for work and would not be required actively to seek work. The amendment includes provision for secondary legislation to deal with more detailed issues, such as the exact definition of what constitutes domestic violence and the circumstances in which the exemption will be applied.

I hope that noble Lords will be pleased that this new exemption is in addition to the current, discretionary period allowable for domestic emergencies. This means that, in extreme cases, a claimant with children who is suffering from domestic violence, or the threat of the same, may be excused from the jobseeking requirements for up to 24 weeks in a 12-month period. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson for Work and Pensions

Perhaps I may say how grateful I am—as I am sure will be the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws—that the Government have made it absolutely clear in the Bill what should happen to victims of domestic violence.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions

My Lords, we support the government amendment, which offers additional protection for victims of domestic violence. We accept the concerns raised in Committee and elsewhere as perfectly valid. It would be desperately difficult for someone in that position—perhaps having to flee their home and possibly living in sheltered accommodation provided by charities, with any number of practical problems to overcome, let alone emotional ones—to fulfil all the welfare requirements being put in place.

Amendment 58, which grants an exemption of 13 weeks to victims of domestic violence, is a demonstration of how a welfare system can allow room for compassion. We congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, on bringing it forward. We have one quibble, which is not with the policy or the purposes of the amendment, but with the parliamentary procedure involved. I refer to the most recent report—

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip

Perhaps I can pre-empt the noble Lord, Lord Freud. I have just received from the Box an additional piece of script which I think will answer the point that he quite rightly was about to make. Perhaps if I read it out, he will be able to make a decision:

"I would like to acknowledge the report by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, published on 22 October. We accept that the regulations for defining what the Government means by domestic violence should be subject to affirmative procedure. We will be bringing an amendment to that effect forward during Third Reading".

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud Shadow Minister, Work and Pensions

I must congratulate the noble Baroness on being a mind reader, or at least an interpreter of the first two words of a title. That was our question and I was going to offer the noble Baroness the opportunity to explain why this approach has been taken. She has made it clear that the Government are changing it. We are delighted to hear the news.

Photo of Baroness Hollis of Heigham Baroness Hollis of Heigham Labour

My Lords, I, too, am delighted that my noble friend has been able to make this major movement forward in responding to the issues presented by domestic violence. I am so pleased that the Government, here as in so many other fields, have been able to take on board the concerns expressed in Committee.

I have only one question. An extension of 13 weeks is fine, but those of us who in the past have been involved in hostels for battered wives and so on know that there are cases sometimes where someone can be on the move for more than 13 weeks. Over several months they may move from location to location, unable to settle if or until the police have finally arrested, prosecuted or possibly detained the alleged abuser. Can I take it that the 13-week period still permits an extension for good cause; in other words, can the same arguments for a period of 13 weeks be used, where necessary, to go beyond that time where there is clear evidence of continued instability and fear of violence?

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip

I think that my noble friend can take that comfort.

Amendment 58 agreed.

Amendments 59 and 60

Moved by Baroness Crawley

59: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—

"Good cause for failure to comply with regulations etc

(1) In Schedule 1 to the Jobseekers Act 1995 (c. 18) (supplementary provisions), after paragraph 14 insert—

"Good or just cause for acts or omissions

14A (1) This paragraph applies to any regulations made under this Act that prescribe matters to be taken into account in determining whether a person has good cause or just cause for any act or omission (including any failure to comply with the regulations).

(2) The provision made by the regulations prescribing those matters must include provision relating to—

(a) the person's physical or mental health or condition;

(b) the availability of childcare."

(2) In Schedule 2 to the Welfare Reform Act 2007 (c. 5) (employment and support allowance: supplementary provisions), after paragraph 10 insert—

"Good cause for failure to comply with certain regulations

10A (1) This paragraph applies to any regulations made under section 11, 12 or 13 that prescribe matters to be taken into account in determining whether a person has good cause for any failure to comply with the regulations.

(2) The provision made by the regulations prescribing those matters must include provision relating to—

(a) the person's physical or mental health or condition;

(b) the availability of childcare.""

60: Before Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—

"Jobseekers' agreements and action plans: well-being of children

(1) In section 9 of the Jobseekers Act 1995 (c. 18) (the jobseeker's agreement), after subsection (4) insert—

"(4A) In preparing a jobseeker's agreement for a claimant, the officer must have regard (so far as practicable) to its impact on the well-being of any child who may be affected by it."

(2) In section 14 of the Welfare Reform Act 2007 (c. 5) (employment and support allowance: action plans in connection with work-focused interviews), at the end insert—

"(5) In preparing any action plan, the Secretary of State must have regard (so far as practicable) to its impact on the well-being of any person under the age of 16 who may be affected by it.""

Amendments 59 and 60 agreed.

Clause 25 : Contracting out functions under Jobseekers Act 1995

Amendment 61 not moved.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

House adjourned at 6.22 pm.