Schedule 3

Welfare Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 24th February 2009.

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Claimants dependent on Drugs etc.

Question proposed, That the schedule be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I have one question relating to schedule 3 which the Minister may be able to answer. In schedule 3, paragraph 2, you introduce schedule A1 to the Jobseekers Act 1995. In paragraph 2, you establish a good principle in relation to those benefit claimants who are looking for, or having to go through an assessment—that this should only be done where there is a reasonable view that they are drug abusers. However, when we come to the first part of that—undertaking the initial questions—it is clear from page 48, paragraph 65 of the regulation book you provided this morning that you are already making a distinction between JSA claimants—

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not use the word “you”. That refers to the Chair.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

The Minister has already put it down to my youthful membership of the House.

The Minister, in paragraph 165, is already making a distinction between JSA claimants, for whom regulations will require that they answer questions at the discretion  of a personal adviser, and ESA claimants, for whom it is mandatory. Would the Minister explain why there is a difference between the two?

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland 6:15 pm, 24th February 2009

Obviously, the JSA is assessing whether people are actually ready for work, while the ESA system is assessing how their health condition affects their ability to work. The question was raised as that is specifically a health-related benefit. We could have a case where a recreational drug user presents him or herself for JSA—under the standard JSA conditions that would not necessarily be a health barrier to their actively seeking work. Due to the different criteria used, there has to be an element of discretion in JSA. However, in ESA we have to assess the entire health condition because people may have multiple issues—they may have mental health issues or physical disabilities as well as the drug use—which is why we need to look at all of the health conditions that affect them so that we can make an assessment under ESA.

Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

I thank the Minister for that explanation. In both the assessment and the questions, the second part of the reason for asking those questions is the same regardless of the benefit a person may be on. That is that

“any such dependency or propensity is a factor affecting their prospects of obtaining or remaining in work.”

Even where one has a JSA claim, the assessment may be that they are nearer work than an ESA claimant. That element still comes into the assessment and does not justify in my mind the difference between the two.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

As I said, JSA is not specifically a health-related assessment, whereas ESA is. It is important with ESA that all relevant medical conditions are disclosed, so that a proper assessment can be made by medical advisers. Following that assessment, when decisions are made about who carries out the treatment and whether the person consents to invasive treatment, the same rules would apply.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 3 accordingly agreed to.