, and where claimants have guaranteed and predictable access to good quality, affordable and flexible childcare which meets the needs of the parents and the child or children in the claimants household,.
Amendment 62, in clause 3, page 10, line 17, at end insert
(8) The prescribed description of person under subsection (4)(c) above shall include any person with dependent children who has claimed benefit in the previous 12 months following an incident of domestic violence provided that the claimant is able to produce such evidence as may be required by the Secretary of State to establish that the relationship was caused to permanently break down before the end of that period as a result of domestic violence, as under United Kingdom Immigration Rule 289A..
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood. I shall particularly address amendments 40 and 65. The Government have signalled their intention to introduce work for your benefit schemes, although I prefer to call the schemes Workfare, because I think that that better describes the Governments intention. Liberal Democrat Members have considerable concerns about some of the proposed changes, and amendment 40 addresses parents with school-age children.
I make it clear that I have no problem with parents, or single parents in particular, working. My mother brought me and my two sisters up as a single parent, and I have no doubt that there are many other people in the same position. However, we are talking about working for benefit, and a change in Government policy to cover children of school age.
Under the proposals, from October 2010, single parents with children aged seven or over will be required to claim jobseekers allowance. After 12 months, they will be transferred to a private provider under flexible new deal provisions and, after 24 months, to work experience schemes. We will then have a situation in which single parents will be competing with jobseekers for the attention and support of flexible new deal providers, although there will be no additional incentives or resources to support that group.
Previous experience of asking private sector providers to deliver for single parents have shown that, without additional resources, they are unwilling to invest in this area. In what is usually described as parking, there are concerns that providers will take little action for the most vulnerable claimants, who will therefore be more likely to become eligible for the work for your benefit schemes.
The YWCA is concerned not only that this is a work for your benefit programme, but that it is also inappropriate for single parents and unlikely to lead to improved work outcomes. Single parents are likely to form a disproportionate number of the participants. We have gone from the Government talking about the idea in the Green Paper to a situation in which the proposal is going to be actively implemented.
Research from the Department for Work and Pensions itself suggests that there is little evidencenot just in this sector, but across othersthat work for benefit schemes actually increase the likelihood of finding work. Such a scheme is least effective at getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high. I am sad to say that that is the case in many of our constituencies. It is also not effective for individuals with multiple barriers for work, and it can reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and failing to provide the skills and experience that employers value.
Despite all that evidence, the Government, in their Green Paper, preferred to rely on the following justification:
The report points to evidence that full-time activity in such programmes leads to improved job outcomes: between a half and two-thirds of leavers found unsubsidised work at some point in the three years after leaving the Wisconsin programme. Australia's 'Work for the Dole' had a 7 per cent net increase in participants going into jobs compared to nonparticipants.
Significantly, with reference to the Australian research, the Green Paper omitted a sentence that the research report included, in bold type:
However, other research found that WfD was ineffective in helping participants find sustainable employment with only one-quarter in work three months after leaving the programme and 14 per cent employed in full-time jobs.
It is seriously worrying that the DWP is prepared to consider work for benefit schemes without addressing some of the key problems that other programmes have encountered.
We must consider the current employment climate. At a time of rising unemployment, the Bills focus on conditionality and sanctions is inappropriate. We should be concentrating on protecting the jobs that already exist and strengthening the opportunities that are available for people to find work. Using the big stick might have been appropriate a few years ago, but not in the current economic climate. We are particularly concerned that rising unemployment will cause anxiety and fear[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Hood.
At this time of increased anxiety, lone parents, disabled people and those facing the prospect of unemployment will be the hardest hit. We thus believe that excluding lone parents with children of school age from the programme, as proposed in amendment 40, would be appropriate.
Amendment 65 would ensure that before any programmes were produced, there would have to be evidence that there was guaranteed and predictable access to good-quality, affordable and flexible child care.
A woman who came to see me in my surgery a couple of weeks ago was getting a job which would leave her under the 16-hour rule, so she would not be entitled to receive the child tax credits that would have enabled her to pay for her child care. She told me that she would end up being only £5 a week better off. She has decided that she wants to work, but she is working those hours for an extra £5 a week. I would prefer the Government to amend the 16-hour rule so that parents can pay for flexible child care and to ensure that child care is provided in areas where there are shortages. Such steps would represent money better spent on helping people back into work.
The provisions in this part of the Bill are meaningless because they do not deal with some of the problems and barriers that many lone parents face when moving into work. I would prefer the Government to concentrate on addressing that, rather than using the stick without the carrot.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Hood. I look forward to serving on the Committee with you.
I thank the hon. Member for Rochdale for mentioning my amendmenthopefully my input will result in better child care for children throughout the countryand I thoroughly endorse what he said. Having said that, this is about a Scottish element to the Bill, and I want to ensure that adequate support is available.
I recognise that there is a need to get people into work, particularly at the current time, and I disagree with the premise of amendment 40 because this has to be about exchange, not something for nothing. However, we know about the difficulty in reaching our targets and the prospective child poverty Bill, so we need to make sure that children are at the forefront of our minds when we consider the effect of this Bill. We cannot put extra strain on parents by making them worse off through a system that is supposed to work in the other direction. Given the increasing obligations to be placed on unemployed parents, there is widespread concern about a lack of high-quality, flexible and affordable child care in Scotland. Amendment 65 would ensure that such child care was considered before strict conditions were placed on parents.
Work on the amendment has been carried out by the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, which includes more than 40 organisations that work with people experiencing exclusion and poverty in Scotland. I thank it for its work and help. The amendment has already attracted media coverage north of the border, and I thank the media for publicising the need to look at the amendment. I also thank Citizens Advice Scotland for its help, not just with this amendment, but through the other work that it has done with me over the years.
This amendment would ensure that, unless a claimant had access to good, affordable child care, they would not be faced with the Catch-22 of deciding between benefits and making sure that their children were looked after. According to figures from One Parent Families Scotland, more than 50,000 children could be affected by the planned changes. We must remember that there is no legal entitlement to child care in Scotland, unlike in England and Wales, and no subsidy for child care for two-year-olds in Scotland, unlike in England and Wales.
There are limited means for systematically monitoring Scottish provision, so it is difficult to get a clear picture of the situation. However, we do know that between 2006 and 2008, the number of child care centres and child minders in Scotland fell from 10,388 to 10,322. While the decrease might be small, it is none the less a decrease at a time when we were hoping to give better coverage for children north of the border.
Costs are the biggest hurdle to getting a job with an income to support a family, especially for single parents and couples with low incomes. It is concerning that figures from the Daycare Trust show that the cost of out-of-school child care in Scotland increased by 29 per cent. in the last 12 months, while the cost of a nursery place rose by around 12 per cent. Given the problems in the finance markets and the fact that inflation is coming down, these increases are greater than we would expect parents paying for child care to face.
The DWPs impact assessment on the Bill, which was published in January, emphasised the importance of child care and recognised the risks of imposing obligations on parents. However, it stated that those were mitigated by the improvements in England and Wales as a result of the Childcare Act 2006, which places a duty on local authorities in those countries to secure sufficient child care for working parents. However, there is no such duty in Scotland, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform recognised on Second Reading when he said:
The measures are not, as billed, Any job at any cost, regardless of whether there is child care provision or other elements. I take on board what many of my Scottish friends have said about...child care provision in some areas of Scotland, not least Glasgow.[Official Report, 27 January 2009; Vol. 487, c. 268.]
While that recognition is welcome, we need to ensure that the Bill takes account of child care availability so that they are not just warm words. I look to the Minister to address these concerns.
It should be noted that a precedent was set with regard to the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, with regard to which Scotland was given nearly four years to put its house in order so that it could come in line with England and Wales. I am asking the Minister for something similar: for the Bill to give the Scottish Government and local authorities north of the border time to ensure that children in Scotland receive the same care and attention as those in the rest of the UK.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood. We look forward to receiving your guidance as we seek to subject the Bill to proper parliamentary scrutiny.
As the hon. Member for Rochdale said, the Governments plans for work for your benefit were first mooted in their Green Paper of July 2008. It might assist the Committee if I say, by way of brief introduction, that in January 2008six months before the Government produced this schemewe published a Green Paper on the subject. We proposed a return-to-work programme, saying:
Our intention is that anyone who has been through the new system without finding work and has claimed the allowance for longer than two out of the previous three years will be required to join a mandatory long-term community work scheme as a condition of continuing to receive benefit support.
We do not resile one bit from that proposition, which we produced a little before the Government reached their position.
Given what the hon. Member for Rochdale said in general terms about the Liberal Democrats approach, I take it that they are opposed to the proposal in principle and that amendment 40 is not just a probing amendment to seek more details. It was not entirely clear whether that opposition in principle extended to all time or just the present economic circumstances. However, we must consider amendment 40 against that background.
It appears to meI look forward to legal advice and analysis from those with perhaps greater expertise than methat, under amendment 40, no parent with a child under 16 would be eligible for work for your benefit. The hon. Gentleman confined himself to talking about single parents, but the amendment would apply to any couple because it refers to responsibility for a child, not sole responsibility for a child, so it would appear to cover both members of any couple with a child under 16. Therefore, neither member of such a couple would be required to work under the provisions of work for your benefit after they had been out of work for two years and undertaken the flexible new deal programme for 12 months. We simply cannot agree with that.
We heard the hon. Gentlemans case, but it is always possible to mix and match research on such a subject, and it appears that there is no academic consensus. He referred to the Australian scheme of working for benefit, which appears to attract at least a degree of political consensus. A telling feature of that scheme is that while it was introduced by the previous Australian Government, the incoming Australian Government, who are of a different political complexion, have chosen to keep the scheme in place. That tells us something about the way in which the scheme in seen in Australia.
As a general proposition, we believe that work is a good thing, and that children in families with at least one member in work do better than children in workless families. There is a great deal of evidence to support that. That is not only due to the higher income that work generates, but because the child grows up seeing somebody in the family in work. Anything that brings a family into the routine of work, that gets children into the habit of seeing at least one of their parents go out to work, that prevents long-term worklessness, and that helps people get back into work, is a good thing.
I heard the various complaints made by the hon. Member for Rochdale. However, one is tempted to ask what members of families in low-income work, or those of families in which both members have low-paid jobs, would make of the hon. Gentlemans proposal that if two members of a couple are on benefits, neither should be in work. He did not indicate whether he would press amendment 40 to a Divisionhe has not yet heard the Ministers responsebut if he does so, we shall vote against it.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West made reasonable points in support of amendment 65, which relates to child care. He said that his points related to Scotland, but they are important in themselves and we look forward to hearing the Ministers response to them.
I also note that amendment 62 is in this group, although I do not think that the hon. Member for Rochdale discussed it. It relates to clause 3 and the entitlement to jobseekers allowance. Clause 3as opposed to clause 1, which deals with the work for your benefit proposalsis concerned with the shift of claimants from income support to JSA. I have not yet heard the details of the amendment from the hon. GentlemanI will wait to hear what the Minister says about itbut it raises a reasonable point about the serious subject of domestic violence. I anticipate that we will be told that the amendment would make little difference in practice. However, it is worth considering domestic violence in such circumstances.
I say once again that if the hon. Gentleman presses amendment 40 to a Division, we will oppose it, because we think that the amendment represents opposition to the scheme in principle.
I, too, look forward to working under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood, and that of Mr. Amess.
I am afraid that the hon. Member for Rochdale was offering a counsel of despair, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere implied. We are making legislation for the future, not for the immediate downturn. However, I would say that even in the period of economic downturn, there is more than sufficient evidence, research and academic work to suggest that it must be right to try to keep all individuals as close to the labour market as possible, if not to get them formally back into work. To suggest right at the start of our deliberations that it might be too difficult to help such individuals because of the current economic climate is an utter counsel of despair with which I do not agree at all. I do not think that such a suggestion is appropriate.
Notwithstanding other amendments that we will consider, the hon. Member for Rochdale did not set out an alternative, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere implied, and the proposal in the amendment would become worse than was suggested. As hon. Members will know, we have a policy on the stocks to raise the school leaving age under law to 18. The hon. Member for Rochdale is thus saying that no parent, of any descriptionsingle or pluralof a child up to the age of 18 would have to comply with the conditionality regime at all. That must be a nonsense in any circumstances, but it also makes a nonsense of the help and support that the state should provide parents, lone parents and couples in those circumstances. We havethis guides the entire Billa fundamental duty to keep as many people as we can as close to the labour market as possible, if not in it. If the Liberals wish to demur from that, it is entirely a matter for them, but it is a sorry day if that is really what they are suggesting.
This is not, I hasten to add, Workfare. Workfare, by definitionat its most crudeis a largely punitive program of work aimed at dissuading claimants from continuing their claim in the first place. To suggest, as other commentators have donethe hon. Gentleman is not original in this regardthat this is Workfare of the most punitive kind is not correct. Work for your benefit will consist of full-time work experience that is backed up by additional employment support designed to give the long-term unemployed the best chance of taking work in the open labour market. As far as I am aware, that compares with no proposal from the Liberal Democrats, which is a shame. We think it is absolutely right that, as the duration of a claim increases, claimants are expected to do more to help themselves back to work. There is nothing shameful or underhand about this. It is a proper balance of rights and responsibilities, and we would argue that that is in the interest of the individuals concerned.
We have said throughoutfrom the Green Paper onwardsthat, given that this is not Workfare, we will not insist on, in any way, shape or form, lone parents taking any old job regardless of any significant barriers that may remain to securing employment. There are safeguards to prevent customers from being sanctioned if a lack of appropriate child care prevents them from participating in work for your benefit. It is important that parents who claim JSA understand their responsibility to make reasonable efforts to find appropriate, affordable child care, but we want to get to a personalised system. Each and every one of the assorted barriers that an individual might face will be taken into account when looking at their progression through the back-to-work programme. That addresses points raised in subsequent amendments.
I take cognisance of the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West that things are not as they should be in Scotland. There is no UK-wide equivalent of the Childcare Act 2006, which puts a new duty on local authorities in England and Wales to secure, as far as is practical, sufficient child care to meet the needs of working parents. I might need to mull over my hon. Friends proposal in due course, and I ask him not to press it to a Division on the promise that, after reflection, I will come back to it on Report. As we see elsewhere in the Bill, when there is this interface between devolved matters and UK matters, we are trying to accommodate the devolved Administrations. I take much of what he said to heart and I promise to pursue the matter further.
On the substance of the amendment, we think that it has been drawn wrongly, with drafting technicalities that would render it rather too broad. I am assured by lawyers who know such things far better than II wake up every day happy that I am not a lawyerthat those who are not parents could conceivably object to going on to a conditionality regime because affordable and practicable child care did not exist for parents. The effect of the amendment could be far wider than anticipated if those without children were able to claim that they should not participate in work for your benefit because appropriate child care was not available. I know that that sounds daft, and I know that it is not the thrust of what my hon. Friend wants to achieve, but nonetheless I am assured that the effect could be that wide.
We take domestic violence very seriously but, again, amendment 62, although perhaps tabled with the right intentions, does not come anywhere near to achieving its aim. Let us be clear: immigration rule 289Athose rules and regulations are dear to my heart in some waysis quite rightly about there being a pathway to indefinite leave to remain for people caught in circumstances of domestic violence that have led to the irrevocable breakdown of a relationship. That is thus an appropriate pathway into ILR. We would argue that once an individual has established indefinite leave to remain, it is right and proper for that individual to be afforded the same treatment as everybody else. That does not mean ignoring the domestic violence background, but that will be part of the personalised service under conditionality. Despite raising a very important issue, amendment 62 either does not achieve what it seeks to, or, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere suggested, is irrelevant or superfluous, because the issue is already covered in the broader policy and the legislation.
To start as I mean to go on, we reject amendments 40 and 62. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West not to press amendment 65 to a Division on the grounds that it concerns an important issue that I shall consider in more detail, and on which I shall get back to the House on Report.
I accept that amendment 40 was badly drafted and that it should have referred to children of single parents. However, on amendment 62, which deals with the important matter of domestic violence, I do not believe that the Minister gave us an adequate explanation. Far too much of the Bill is left to further regulations, so I would like to press amendment 62 to a Division. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment 40.
, including demonstrating that the failure was caused by a long-term or fluctuating mental health problem,.
Amendment 89, in clause 2, page 5, line 26, at end insert
which must include that persons health at the time of their failure to comply..
Amendment 77, in schedule 3, page 81, line 39, after requirement, insert
which must include the persons health at the time of the failure to comply..
We now come to amendment 3, which is designed to elicit more details from the Government. The relevant paragraphs concern good cause in relation to sanctions for failure to comply with regulations under the work for your benefit scheme.
We would like to hear more detail about that. Will the Minister provide some examples of the principles that animate that particular provision? Will he also give some practical examples of what might amount to good cause? As matters stand we are not seeking to oppose this, but we want more details; at the moment the Bill is fairly broad regarding the subject.
Amendment 88 is a Scottish nationalist amendment from the hon. Member for Glasgow, East. It covers an important point about whether fluctuating mental health problems should, in effect, amount to good cause of failure to comply with work-related activities. That would seem a reasonable point to consider. We will be interested to hear the Ministers comments about how that would fit in with the Governments ideas on good causeone would imagine that they will have given that matter some thought already.
Amendment 89 prescribes a persons general health as a matter to be taken into account in determining whether or not that person has good cause for failing to comply with requirements. Again, one imagines that the Government will have something to say about the issue in their view of good cause.
Amendment 77, which is tabled in the name of the Conservative party, makes the same point about general health amounting to good cause, but within the case of failure to comply with requirements where the claimant is dependent on drugs. That is a general subject to which we will return, but we would like to hear the Ministers views at this stage as to whether in this case general health problems might amount to a good cause for failure to comply with requirements. Again, we simply want to elicit information from the Government on that; it is a reasonable point to consider.
Thank you, Mr. Hood, for your patience as I learn how these Committees work.
I refer, briefly, to amendments 88 and 89. We would like to see the issue of health clarified because the words good cause seem quite vague. Perhaps I should say, first, that I have reservations about the whole direction of the Bill; it seems that there are a lot of sticks and not very many carrots. The statement was made earlier that no one should get something for nothing; but when we are dealing with children and people with disabilities and poor health and so on, yes, we as a society have a duty to provide something for nothing.
We have a slight fear that the Bill has been geared toward England, and Scotland has been a bit of an afterthought, but I am reassured by the Ministers earlier statements that he will look at the Scottish situation. I also confirm that I agree that work is a good thing, as the hon. Member for Hertsmere said, and that children who grow up in a family where work is part of the routine have a big advantage: it will help them move into work themselves. So we are positive about helping people get into work. But when it comes to the idea of a personalised system, which affects health and other issues as well, many Members across the House wonder whether Jobcentre Plus can really be as personal as the Minister hopes it can be. I would certainly hope it could be, but my experience of dealing with bureaucracies and bodies like Jobcentre Plus is that it is very difficult to personalise their services.
Sometimes there is an assumption that a persons health, whether physical or mental, is constant. The reality is that the health of people with fluctuating health conditions does vary. I am interested to hear how the Minister thinks we might deal with that.
I want to raise a brief point on these amendments, and specifically to speak against amendment 3. My concern relates to people with learning disabilities, and I would like some reassurance from the Minister that regulations will specifically address how this new proposal will impact on such people. It is likely that there will be a number of people with learning disabilities on JSAan increasing number are coming on to JSAand they are likely to be people at the milder end of the spectrum. So I would like an assurance that regulations will address that and ensure that, in relation to these specific issues, people with learning disabilities will be taken into account. It is enormously important that they are given equal access to the opportunities that the Bill presents.
The Minister might be able to help the Committee with this clause. We are dealing with a conditionality aspectthe withdrawal of benefit if a person does not comply. What we do not have in front of us are the detailed regulations that will be used to apply that conditionality. Mind, along with many other organisations, has concerns, which are reflected in these amendments, about how that conditionality might be applied.
In previous Bills that I have been involved with, the most recent of which became the Pensions Act 2008, the Minister gave an assurance during the Bills passage that those regulations would be made available as and when they were produced by the Department. That would address some of the real fears and concerns that Members have about people who have fluctuating mental illnesses that prevent them from attending an interview when they are summoned. If we could see from the regulations that there is scope for that to be taken account of, or that there is a mechanism that can be applied, I am sure that many Members would feel a lot happier.
Will the Minister therefore give us an assurance that we can see the regulations at the earliest possible opportunity? That would allay some of the quite reasonable fears about how this sanction would be applied.
On the broader point about regulations, allegedly in this room or certainly close to it there is a rather thickfor which I apologisecompendium, as promised, of where there will be regulations or a regulation-making power throughout the Bill. Where possible, the compendium contains at least the outline of what those regulations will include. I do not doubt that it will find its way to a pile, either close to members of the Committee or otherwise, at some stage this morning. I apologise that it is tedious and very detailed, but the Committee will know that it is one of those areas of legislationnot dissimilar to immigrationwhere there is a massive pile of regulation and rules alongside primary legislation. That is not newit is just the way that things have developed, probably since the early 70s and before.
In terms of the perfectly reasonable debate earlierI always get this in at some stage during our Committeesthe Committee should be aware that we should not suffer from undue specificity. If we put something on the face of the Bill that looks in the first instance as though it blocks off an option or is trying to put a principle on the face of the Bill, that can in many circumstances, rather erroneously and unintentionally, preclude a whole series of other things from being included, because of the undue specificity. That is why we have regulations alongside to explore things much more fully.
Therefore, to be perfectly frank, I do not understand amendment 3, which seeks to simply take away the regulation-making power, does not put anything in its place, and says that we cannot prescribe what we mean in terms of matters and circumstances and good cause.
In that context, I fully understand amendment 3 as a probing amendment. It clearly made no sense on its own terms. But I apologiseI realise that the hon. Gentleman said probing at the start.
If the Committee seeks an exhaustive list on the face of the Bill outlining what good causes may be, that is a fools errand. That is in the sense that, with the greater personalisation and the focus on individuals, we would hope to be as flexible as possible precisely because of the very personal nature of that relationship. Of course, that will include a persons health and other such matters. Currently, in terms of sanctions on the new deal, the following circumstances all constitute good cause, in terms of an impediment to the individual being able to comply with the conditions: disease or physical and mental disablement, travelling time, caring responsibilities, attendance at court, arranging or attending a funeral, being in a lifeboat crew or a part-time firefighter, domestic emergencies, emergency duties, continued participation potentially putting the individuals health and safety at risk, antisocial behaviour orders, and community orders or community disposal orders.
Equally, we could not have an exhaustive list of health conditions. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East will know that elsewhere in the Bill we will be discussing what we can do in the most flexible of terms for individuals with ongoing disability, fluctuating conditions orparticularly in the case of later clausesproblematic drug use. So, quite deliberately, the Bill is drawn as broadly as possible, to be as all-encompassing as possible in terms of providing the individual with as much scope as possible for a good cause to be part of the developing relationship between the personal adviser and the individual. Two years down the line, at the end of the new deal, after 24 months on JSA, we think not only that the conditionality should applywe are very clear about thatbut equally, that it should apply in the most flexible of circumstances. We should take full cognition of an individuals circumstances, and ensure that what is established in terms of good cause is as broadly drawn as possible.
I do not accept the contention of the hon. Member for Glasgow, East that somehow Jobcentre Plus will not be up for this. It has been and will continue to be. I am glad he did not go down the same road as the hon. Member for Rochdale and talk about trying to legislate, in all the circumstances of February 2009, for what will prevail in the future once we get through the recession. The starting point taken by the hon. Member for Hertsmereto tease out more readily what we mean by good causeis, on reflection, a perfectly reasonable probing amendment. I hope that I have sought, at least in part, to answer his questions. I am grateful that he is not going to pursue amendment 3. I would add, given what I have already said, that amendments 77, 88 and 89 are therefore not necessary. I also think they are problematic, in the sense of how they relate to some other parts of the Bill, and some other parts of what we are doing. They potentially restrict rather than allow the greatest degree of flexibility, which is central to all that we are trying to do in terms of the two-way relationship rooted in the conditionality regime.
(8A) A statutory instrument containing regulations made by the Secretary of State under subsection (8) shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House..
(4A) A statutory instrument containing regulations made by the Minister under subsection (4) shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House..
Amendment 8, in clause 2, page 5, line 37, at end insert
(6A) A statutory instrument containing regulations made by the Minister under subsection (5) shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House..
Amendment 22, in schedule 1, page 66, line 9, at end insert
23A A statutory instrument containing regulations made by the Minister under Part 1 of Schedule 1 shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House..
Amendment 15, in clause 7, page 13, line 37, leave out subsection (9) and insert
(9) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House..
Amendment 19, in clause 19, page 25, line 18, at end insert
(10A) A statutory instrument containing regulations made by the Secretary of State under subsections (6), (7), (8), (9) or (10) shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House..
It may assist the Committee to know that all these amendments stand in my name and those of my hon. Friends. They relate to the type of parliamentary scrutiny that regulations should be subject to under the Bill. In each case, they require the affirmative resolution procedure as an alternative to the negative resolution procedure that is in place at the moment in the Bill.
As the Committee, and anyone who looks at the Bill, will have gathered, it contains an enormous number of regulation-making powers. Without counting them up exactly, I understand that the vast majority are subject to the negative procedure and only one or two are subject to the affirmative procedure. It would take up a lot of the Committees time and possibly generate inappropriate debate if one was to suggest that the negative procedure was taken out in every case and replaced by the affirmative procedure. In these amendments we have taken what we regard as some of the more important issues currently covered by the negative procedureI will be corrected if I am wrong about that, but at the moment they seem to be covered by itand suggested, as a way of opening up a debate, whether or not they should be subject to the affirmative procedure. I am afraid that it will be necessary to leap between a number of subjects and areas in the Bill.
First, amendment 4 would require the use of the affirmative procedure under clause 1(8). That is in the case of hardship payments where sanctions have been applied for failure to comply with work for your benefit regulations. This is obviously a sensitive issue. We observe that in the notes on clauses, provision for such hardship payments is contained in section 20B(4) of the Jobseekers Act 1995. It may be that the Government envisage the hardship provisions working here in the same way as the ones that are already established. It is certainly important to hear a few words from the Minister on this subject.
Amendment 7 refers to proposed new section 2D. This is a different subjectthat of work-related activity for claimants in receipt of various income-based benefits, including employment and support allowance. The regulation-making powers in question, to which this amendment relates, are very important in the context of what is required of these claimants by way of work-related activity. I am sure the Committee will understand that when I say work-related activity, it means not that a person will be required to look for a job, but that they will be required to undertake activity that serves as a preparation for finding work and helps to move them nearer to the labour market. It covers claimants in receipt of a number of different types of benefit.
So these regulation-making powers go to the heart of what is required of claimants. They, for example, prescribe the time and amount of work-related activity that a person is required to undertake, the circumstances in which a person is or is not to be regarded as undertaking such activity, and the imposition of a sanction where a person has failed to comply with requirements. Those are important matters, and they stand out from among the other regulation-making powers as ones where it is appropriate to at least consider whether the affirmative resolution procedure should be used, rather than the negative one.
Amendment 8 relates to regulation-making powers to reduce benefit where sanctions are imposed on a claimant who has failed to comply with requirements on work-related activity. We regard reductions in benefit and the length of time for which it is to be reduced as important matters. We note that, in this context, the Gregg reportthe Committee will be familiar with Professor Gregg, who gave evidence to us in our sitting two weeks agosaid of the sanctions that are currently in place:
Whilst the current regime is broadly effective and certainly increases compliance with labour market conditions, there is also widespread acknowledgment that it is complex and difficult to understand. The process is also, in some circumstances, time-consuming and costly to operate. This means that the system is not as clear and crisp as it could be, which reflects the piecemeal development of conditionality across different benefits based on different legislation, different regulations and different case law.
The Government, in their December White Paper, admitted that there were shortcomings in some respects in the way sanctions were workingalthough we know that the Government are seeking, through the Bill, to move benefits together, which will reduce the number of benefits to some extent. In the light of those criticisms and considerations, it is important to have a debate about this.
In their White Paper, the Government suggested that the initial sanction for non-compliance for jobseekers should be one weeks loss of jobseekers allowance. We wonder whether the Government have the same amount in mind in the case of non-compliance for work-related activity.
Amendment 22 relates to schedule 1, which makes various amendments to the Jobseekers Act 1995. The delegated powers memorandum states that it contains amendments to the Act, which would provide a framework under which some people are not required to meet some of the conditions
but...are expected to prepare for work in the future.
It contains detailed provisions related to conditionality, dealing with requirements to attend work-focused interviews; powers to direct claimants to undertake activities relating to finding employments, becoming employable, and remaining employed; action plans, requirements to undertake work-related activity and application of sanctions. These are very important matters. They may apply, in some cases, to lone parents with younger children; we think it is right to raise the issue once again in this context, at the level of parliamentary scrutiny which is appropriate to them.
Amendment 15 relates to clause 7, which gives the Secretary of State the power to abolish income support. This is obviously a very sweeping regulationa very big step. We apprehend that this is the direction in which the Government wish to travel. We understand that that will be done once the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is no longer necessary to prescribe income support to groups of people because they are catered for elsewhere in the benefits system. As I indicated a moment ago, the Government are trying to move benefits together, which was recommended in various reports into this subject. By saying that this is a big step, I support the proposition. It is perhaps appropriate to consider whether this should be subject to the affirmative procedure as well, given that it is a step of great magnitude in social security policy. At the moment it appears that it is subject to the negative procedure. We wonder whether there is not a case for asking whether this step should be subject to the affirmative procedure when it comes to be taken.
Finally, in the same vein, we come to clause 19 and benefit sanctions following a first offence of benefit fraud. This is a different subjectup to now we have been talking about jobseekers allowance, work for your benefit and work-related activity for claimantsthis concerns benefit offenders who have committed benefit fraud. We will come to this clause in due courseno doubt we will have a wider debate on itbut it is the same point about the type of parliamentary scrutiny that is appropriate. Under clause 19(6) to (10), which deal with the amounts by which benefits will be reduced, we once again wonder whether this is an appropriate case for the affirmative procedure. That is the common thread that runs through this: a concern for proper parliamentary scrutiny. We think it is entirely appropriate to ask about that in these circumstances and to raise the issue. We look forward to the Ministers response.
To echo what the hon. Gentleman said, it is entirely appropriate to table such amendments and there is a consequent and ongoing tension between primary and secondary legislation. As I have tried to indicate, this isnot quite uniquely, because immigration is the samea whole area of UK law where there is an entire regulatory framework alongside the primary legislative framework That is the way that both immigration and benefits law have worked for some time.
I also accept that there is a desire to scrutinise aspects of policy surrounding the Bill. For reasons that I shall come to, I do not accept that this is a necessarily proportionate way of doing it. There is a balance to be struck; there are existing safeguards to ensure that the regulations receive proper scrutiny. For example, we work closely with the Social Security Advisory Committee on regulation. We have shown with the employment and support allowance regulations that we are willing to go beyond what is required of a Department by law and engage constructively with the Committee. We will also study with great care the memo from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and will respond appropriately.
If I may, I shall briefly discuss each element in turn. As the hon. Gentleman suggests, Amendment 4 relates to the hardship payments under the work for your benefit regime. I can assure hon. Members that we intend to apply pretty much the same hardship regime that is already operating for JSA. It is more an updating of the regulations than the introduction of anything substantially new. In that context, I think it appropriate that it is negativethe Committee will know that negative resolutions are laid and, under the negative process, hon. Members can pray against them and they can eventually get their day in court, for want of a better phrase. Negative does not mean that there is no recourse to a degree of scrutiny.
As the hon. Gentleman suggests, amendment 7 relates to clause 2 and how those moving from income support to JSA are treated. Again, we propose to introduce regulations that are similar to existing ones that relate to work-focused interviews, action plans and jobseekers agreements, including relevant good cause provisions. They are therefore appropriately carried out under the negative resolution.
Amendment 15 is strange given that it relates to the abolition of income support. The key safeguard here, as the hon. Gentleman said, is that the Secretary of State must be satisfied that there are no groups who still need it before the benefit is abolished. By the time the negative resolution is laid, everyone will be clear that there is no need for income support any more, so it should be abolished. Why that should not be done under a negative rather than a positive procedure escapes me; we would only lay that negative resolution when the time is right for that particular benefit to be abolished.
I have found an amendment where the hon. Gentleman was in error: amendment 19 is unnecessaryI can confirm that the affirmative procedure will already apply. The regulation-making powers are intended to be the same as those existing in the two strikes legislation in the Social Security Fraud Act 2001, because this is inserted in that legislationbut it will be the affirmative rather than the negative.
The Committee will be aware that in both the delegated powers memorandum and the document to which I referredwhich is now, I hope, availablethere are copious notes and tables about where regulation powers are taken and whether they are to be pursued under negative or positive procedures.
Amendments 8 and 22 refer to the establishment of the progression to work groupin particular, those who have moved from jobseekers allowance to income support. I appreciate that the powers seem wide-ranging, but we either build on the existing JSA regulations or mirror the types of conditionality that will be applied in income support before people migrate to JSA. I accept the hon. Gentlemans point that notwithstanding that it builds on existing conditionality, we are still developing what we want to take forward as the Gregg modelfor want of a better phrase.
Although I am not accepting the amendmentsGod forbid; I do not do that sort of thingI think that the hon. Gentleman does, potentially, have a point. As we develop the model of conditionality during the Bill, amendments 8 and 22 may be ones that we should return to given the import and the substance of those regulations, and the significant shift that they will make. In that spirit, I still ask him to take the lot of them away, but with amendments 8 and 22 the hon. Gentleman does have half a point, at least. I need to reflect on whether it is more than half a point.
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks and his implicit acceptance that we are subjecting this aspect to proper parliamentary scrutiny. I have, at least, got half a pointwhich is half a point more than I have sometimes been credited with after much longer consideration of other Bills.
The Minister will accept that at the outset we were trying to select some of the things which we thought were most important for affirmative resolution debate. I want to say very gently, without wishing to dislodge any good spirit, that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Secretary of State making a decision, but it is not always the case that we agree with what the Secretary of State decides; we hope we do in this case. In the light of the Ministers comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
(8A) Regulations under this section must make provision to ensure that providers
(a) submit to the Secretary of State data showing the number of participants with a disability at every state of the scheme by impairment category;
(b) are required to show how they will meet the needs of participants with particular disabilities..
(1A) For the purposes of, or in connection with, any scheme within section 17A(1) the Secretary of State shall review data showing the number of participants with a disability at every stage of the scheme by impairment category..
The amendments are very simple. They seek to explore how the proposals may impact on disabled people. We know that these people, generally, are one of the groups most excluded from the work force. Only 49 per cent. of disabled people and only 17 per cent. of people with learning disabilities are in work. That suggests that the failure is largely that of the workplace and not of disabled people.
The amendments seek to ensure careful consideration of the impact of the proposals on disabled people. I am grateful to Mencap for its briefing on this matter. There is a concern that such measures may be introduced as a consequence of factors outside the control of individual disabled people, such as failure by the flexible new deal provider, or the unwillingness of employers to take on, and acknowledge that there are problems in relation to, those people. The DWPs impact assessment on this proposal stated:
This policy proposal 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.
I am seeking reassurances in relation to this whole area that this issue will be properly monitored, that providers will have to provide information about people with specific disabilities, whether learning or physical, and that these issues will be properly looked at by the relevant Minister so that the impact of these important changes on the way we deal with these issues is properly examined, on the basis that people with disabilities face particular barriers.
To sum up, I am essentially seeking to ensure that it is possible to identify what is happening to disabled people as a result of the changes, and to ensure that their specific needs are recognised in the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood.
Although I share the sentiments that inspired the amendment, I have a concern about it. I, too, looked at the excellent briefing note from Mencap, which covers the use of providers and relates to some of the evidence that we heard from Ministers. We have spoken about the black box conceptthe concept of letting providers go off and deliver what they are supposed to do to get people into work. The concern is that if one says that those providers have to provide a detailed raft of information to the Department, which inevitably means that the Department is going to take action as a result of that information, one is in danger, if one is not careful, of effectively having the Department micro-manage what the providers are doing. I am not sure whether that is the right solution.
Nevertheless, the hon. Lady has drawn attention to a genuine concern. The way to tackle that, when one is getting providers to get people into work, is to look at the needs of individuals and the fee that the providers receive. If providers are paid a flat fee, there is exactly the danger that she suggests: those who require more help and support to get into work may well be neglected. If, however, the fee reflects the amount of work that will be needed to get someone into work, it ensures that those people who have a greater requirement for help and support will get it. That would be a better solution than the amendments that the hon. Lady is proposing. However, like her, I will listen with great interest to what the Minister has to say, to see whether he will reflect on the point that I have made. If he will not, her proposals may actually have some merit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood. We look forward to your guidance during our proceedings.
I welcome the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley. She raised the same point during the oral evidence hearings, and we had some brief discussions on the issue. I also welcome the comments by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean. What we are hoping to achieveI am sure that there is agreement across the House on thisis to provide help to those who are furthest from the labour market. In particular, people with learning difficulties have stubbornly remained furthest from the labour market for far too long. My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman, along with many of us, will have seen excellent examples of innovative programmes that have provided real jobs for people with learning difficulties. One of thoseI am sure that she is aware of itis Project Search, which we are piloting at Norfolk and Norwich hospital and Leicester city council. It is an exemplary project, providing good training, job coaches and assistance to those peoplepeople who seemingly could not find work but have found work.
I would like to address the point that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean raised about this black box. We do not want to be so specific that we dictate the parameters within which providers assist people with learning disabilities to find employment. To date, that has not worked. We are not in the position to be able to say that what we have done so far, universally, has worked for people with learning disabilities. We can certainly point to some good examples and, as is often the case with public policy, where we see good things working we just want that to be spread across the board, but delivering that is always the frustration for policy makers, whether nationally or locally.
In terms of the people that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley referred tothe risk assessment of people with learning disabilities, or people with disabilitiesit is likely to be those people who come to the end of the flexible new deal and have not found employment. She is right to highlight that, and I can give her some assurances with regards to what we intend to do at that point.
We intend that the Jobcentre Plus personal adviser will review, in partnership with providers, every case in which someone reaches the end of the flexible new deal without finding sustained work, Mr. Hood. This is to ensure we have a clear idea of the barriers and circumstances that an individual facesyou will hear that word repeatedly throughout our proceedings because it is about tailoring our support and resources to individualsand will act as a safeguard to ensure that only those who are capable of working will be referred to this programme.
We acknowledge that some jobseekers have particular circumstances that we need to consider as we design the programme and the way it operates. That is why we intend that the work for your benefit programme will offer personalised and tailored support. We will incorporate appropriate safeguards to ensure that the work experience offered is suitable and relevant to an individuals circumstances, in the way that the hon. Member for Hertsmere suggested earlier. People with disabilities who have restrictions within their jobseekers agreement relating to the days and hours they must be available to work, will also be able to apply those restrictions to participation in the work for your benefit programme. Similarly, any restrictions in jobseekers agreement on the type of work a person is available for will also apply. It is not our intention that people will be required to participate in activities that are unsuitable and inappropriate to their personal circumstances.
We expect our suppliers to be exemplary in meeting their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, including the disability equality duty. This aims to ensure that all bodies actively promote equality for disabled people when providing a service on behalf of the Secretary of State. The contract for the work for your benefit programme will require suppliers to support the Secretary of State in his duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. The DWPs contract management arrangements will monitor delivery in that regard, and customers will have the opportunity to discuss any problems with their jobseeker advisers. As my hon. Friend is aware, we will be piloting those. It is important that we monitor the effectiveness of this, but as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform said, we do not want any undue specificity. Is that correct?
I am grateful. We do not want a list because there would be an inevitable discussion about who is on it and who is not. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley will be aware of that from her time as a Minister. We want the flexibility that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean referred to, so that we can see a step change in the pool of talent among people with learning disabilities. We have seen such people providing excellent work and being assets to the organisations they work for.
I am grateful for the Ministers comments so far, but he has not addressed the issue I raised on differential fees for the rewards paid to providers. I know that the Department is thinking about that idea and will pilot it. My concern is that if providers are paid a flat fee for every person they try to get into work, so that the fee structure does not reflect the amount of help and support required, there is a danger that certain categories of people will be neglected, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley suggested. It might be too late if they have to wait until they fail to get a new job under the flexible new deal. Will the Minister say a little on the Departments plans for differential fees?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for picking up on that important point. There has been concern over cherry-picking, not just under this provision, but under our supported employment programme. We do not want to see cherry-picking. Under this programme, we will develop a payment and contracts model to minimise that risk. We are also exploring the new personalised employment programme and the new accelerator funding model. This is another example of where we are running pilots so that we get things right. I am sure he will agree that we must balance value for money with the personalised, tailored programmes that will provide success for the individual in gaining employment.
The last thing I want to see is micro-management; that is not the right way forward. I wanted reassurance that there will be proper monitoring and evaluation; without that, I fear that we will continue to see disabled people disadvantaged. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the disability equality duty. As he has reassured me that there will be management arrangements for proper monitoring and evaluation of the issues I have raised, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
This is the appropriate moment to raise one matter with the Minister. As was the case with the proposals that we brought out before this programme, it is important to bear in mind that the work for your benefit scheme will not kick in initially with a jobseekers claim, but only after a jobseekers claim has been extant for a considerable period. As I understand the Government proposal, it must be at least two years from the beginning of the jobseekers claim and after a year of job search followed by a year on the flexible new deal.
The commencement of the work for your benefit programme is tied to the beginning of the flexible new deal. We understand from the December 2008 White Paper that the programme is due to be piloted from 2010. It states:
The pilots will start in 2010, in line with the first people completing 12 months on Flexible New Deal.
As Committee members may recollect, the flexible new deal is not expected to commence until 1 October 2009. As we speak, the end stage of the tendering process is subject to delays. What is the implication of this for the work for your benefit scheme? Is the work for your benefit scheme still tied to the flexible new deal? Is it therefore likely to be affected by the circumstances that are apparently causing some turbulence in the flexible new deal tendering process?
Briefly, the answer to the perfectly fair question is probably yes and no. Yes, in the sense that of course it is inextricably linked with the flexible new deal. And, notwithstanding periods of reflection and turbulence, there is no proposal to do anything other than bring in the flexible new deal by October 2009. The two are inextricably linked. For reference, and no more, we have asked the healthy list of providers who bid for the flexible new deal to revisit some of their assumptions. The original assumption was for a cohort of 100,000 long-term unemployed. We have now asked them to look at a range from 100,000 to 300,000. So it is a live contract process which, unlike this legislation, is very much connected with the economic downturn. Yes, the two are linked but no, at this stage there are no plans other than to pursue the start date for the flexible new deal of 1 October. In that context I commend the clause to the Committee.