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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 23rd January 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 10:30 pm, 23rd January 2012

My Lords, in moving Amendment 62ZA, I shall speak also to Amendment 62B. These amendments focus on the issue of sanctions, in particular where a claimant with a dependent child faces sanctions because they are unable to access work or work-related activity or to sustain work due to a lack of suitable childcare which meets the needs of any child for which the claimant is a responsible carer. Amendment 62ZA seeks to ensure that the appeal tribunal takes into account the extent to which a claimant with a dependent child had access to appropriate childcare when the decision was made to impose a sanction under Sections 26 or 27. Amendment 62B also focuses on this issue and would guarantee that a claimant would not face sanctions and the loss of benefit where they are unable to access work or work-related activities or to sustain work due to a lack of appropriate childcare.

These amendments are supported by more than 40 very widely spread organisations. The recent child impact assessment statement from the Children's Commissioner for England stated that sanctions should never be imposed on the main carers of children under Clauses 26 and 27 of the Bill, unless accessible, affordable childcare was available that would allow them to take up offers of work or training or attend interviews. These amendments would meet the commissioner's concerns. Providing such safeguards would be consistent with the approach taken in the 2009 welfare reform legislation where at Report, my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton confirmed in response to a similar amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, that the then UK Government would introduce regulations to provide that claimants with a dependent child would not face sanctions in these circumstances.

Most lone parents want to have the opportunity to combine paid work with the vital job of being a parent once their children are old enough, but the Welfare Reform Bill fails adequately to recognise the significant barriers to paid work which lone parents often experience, in particular the availability of appropriate childcare. In Committee, the Minister outlined the kind of safeguards which would be put in place to protect lone parents from sanctions where they are unable to access childcare. I will not reiterate them now. Unfortunately, I have a whole lot of examples which I cannot now read out because of the time constraints. However, in those examples it is clear that lone parents are being put under pressure to work hours which are not consistent with their childcare responsibilities. I believe that the organisations have written to the Minister and I am very happy to provide those examples outside these proceedings.

I know that the Minister will say that it is not appropriate to put in the Bill the safeguards being sought to ensure that no one is sanctioned because of lack of available childcare. I am sure that the House would be very grateful if he could therefore give a commitment on the record to bring forward regulations in the same way that my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton did to provide safeguards for lone parents who are doing a very important job raising their children. I beg to move.