Welfare Reform Bill — Report (5th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 10:15 pm, 23rd January 2012

I thank those who have contributed to this debate and thank the Minister for his reply. I am interested in his suggestion that we are dealing here with normal families who are perfectly capable and reasonable about the allocation of their money. When I ran the Child Poverty Action Group campaign for the introduction of child benefit 40 years ago, I received 2,000 letters, most of them from normal families. The letters were from the wives of all sorts of people-vicars, doctors and members of the Army-whom I would have considered very normal. However, they wrote to say that they depended on family allowance, which was only some ridiculous amount like 90p for the first child, and would often have to survive on it for a week because their doctor husband or their vicar husband gave them nothing, having drank their money away or whatever else they were doing with it. There are too many "normal families" that one might see walking up and down the street who do not treat their other half in a normal and acceptable way, so I am very relieved to hear from the Minister that there will be a computer system that will enable more splits and more complexity and sensitivity into this system. I am absolutely sure that it will be necessary, not only for a handful but for vast numbers of people across this country.

I am also relieved that the Minister will look closely at how not only universal credit in general will work but how it will work in this particular regard. I think I understood him to say that, and I would very much hope he will pay great attention to this issue. I am absolutely certain it is terribly important for an awful lot of families. After my experience of 40 years ago-and I do not think human nature changes in 40 years-I really believe that is the case. I very much respect his new products and I think they will be splendid, but they will not deal with the sort of issue we are throwing up in this debate. I am sad to withdraw this amendment, but I am pleased to have had some assurances that this issue will not be lost.

Amendment 61B withdrawn.

Amendment 61C not moved.

Amendment 62

Moved by Baroness Meacher

62: After Clause 99, insert the following new Clause-

"Benefits payments to prisoners

(1) Regulations shall provide that a person undergoing imprisonment or detention in legal custody who, at the time that imprisonment or custody commences, is in receipt of any of the qualifying benefits, shall be assessed, during his time in imprisonment or custody, for eligibility for those benefits at the time of his release from imprisonment or custody.

(2) For the purposes of this section, the qualifying benefits are-

(a) universal credit;

(b) jobseeker's allowance;

(c) employment and support allowance;

(d) income support;

(e) personal independence payment, to the extent provided for in regulations made under section 84 (prisoners) above; and

(f) any other benefits provided for in regulations made under this section.

(3) Regulations made under this section shall provide that the assessment required under subsection (1) shall commence as soon as a person is received into imprisonment or custody.

(4) Regulations shall in particular provide that a person appointed by the Secretary of State shall record, at the time a person is received into imprisonment or custody, details of any qualifying benefits which are in payment at that time, together with any personal information needed to establish the person's identity, including but not limited to their national insurance number.

(5) An assessment of eligibility under subsection (1) shall be completed in such time as to ensure that the person assessed receives payment of any benefits for which he is assessed as being eligible no later than one week after his release from imprisonment or custody.

(6) Regulations under this section shall be made by the Secretary of State and shall be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure."