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 Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 10:15 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, I shall speak briefly. The thrust of what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is trying to achieve has considerable merit. I wonder how some of the detail in the amendment about assessments when people start their sentence would work in practice, particularly if someone is likely to be in prison for some while.

We dealt with regulations about a fortnight ago on the importance of people being able to get into the work programme on immediate release from prison. However, I was a little disturbed that, as the Minister explained, applying for JSA was voluntary but that once on JSA there was an inevitable path into the work programme. That of itself is fine, except that it may not take account of many good programmes that are already around in prisons where people are supported sometimes before they leave prison and certainly supported when they do. The route via the work programme might pre-empt and override all of that. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood was involved in that debate.

The thrust of trying to get as many benefits as possible sorted out for individuals before or at the point they leave prison must be helpful to them. The opportunity for them to have resource-presumably under the advance payment arrangements if it happens immediately, because typically benefits would be payable in arrears-is fine, but there is a concern about potentially damaging those good programmes in prison, where they exist, which help people to adjust to the world of work before they formally finish their sentence.