Clause 2

Part of Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 24th February 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Rowen Paul Rowen Shadow Work and Pensions Minister 4:00 pm, 24th February 2009

I agree. As I said this morning, concerns have been raised about various aspects of the Bill and its overarching scope. It is important to place safeguards in the Bill so that it is clear to both the claimant and the personal adviser what is a just cause. It is reasonable that we should do that.

Amendment 51 would insert a provision about reasonable adjustments into schedule 1. We support the fact that more and more people who were previously consigned to incapacity benefit will be supported back into employment. However, there must be an onus on the employer to take into account that person’s needs. There have been circumstances in which someone has returned to work and found that the support that they were promised did not materialise. We believe that it is reasonable for someone not to continue an activity because of an employer’s failure to provide the support that was promised. That might happen because the employer did not, in all good faith, appreciate what the support might involve. If we are considering people with a fluctuating mental illness, it is difficult to prescribe the support that someone will need, because that will vary over time and due to  circumstances. If an employer is not willing to accept that, it might be a reason why a person is unable to continue an activity. We believe that it is reasonable to accept that that can be a reason why a person has had to withdraw from an activity, which is why I tabled amendment 51.

Amendment 52 would insert into schedule 1 the words

“including that person’s mental health and any specific mental health needs that that person may have.”

Again, decisions to access sanctions against the claimant should take account of a person’s specific mental health needs. The Bill allows employment advisers to sanction claimants who have failed to comply with their requirements by withdrawing benefits. There needs to be a very specific safeguard to ensure that a person will not be penalised if they fail to comply because of a particular illness. That comes down to the fact that there needs to be an understanding of the fluctuating nature of mental illness and how although, in an ideal world, we can set up one set of circumstances, a person might need a totally different level of support two or three months down the line. We want to get some sort of commitment from the Government that if it is not possible to take account of mental illnesses that may affect someone’s ability to undertake tasks, there will not necessarily be a sanction and a loss of a benefit. We believe that that is the right way forward.