Functions

Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 1st February 2018.

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Amendment proposed (this day): 27, in clause 3, page 3, line 27, after “develop” insert “deliver”.—(Jack Dromey.)

This amendment would strengthen the SFGB’s strategic function to support and co-ordinate a national strategy to a “develop and deliver” function.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment 29, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(d) financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.”

This amendment creates a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.

Amendment 39, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(d) the uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body by members of the public, and

(e) the understanding of pensions amongst those between the ages of 18 and 55.”

This amendment would add improving uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body, and improve understanding of pensions amongst people aged 18 to 55 to the requirements under the body’s strategic function.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I had anticipated that we would deal with amendments 27, 29 and 39 together. I thought that they would have been grouped, but I will address amendment 27 to start, and take your guidance from there, Mr Rosindell.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington proposes in amendment 27 to amend the Bill by a single word. The strategic function of the Bill as drafted and its three elements have been carefully designed, and I believe that the amendment should not be made. Through its strategic function, the guidance body will bring together interested partners in the sector, various services, the public and voluntary sectors and the devolved administrations with the aim of improving the ability of members of the public to manage their finances effectively. To that end, the body will develop and co-ordinate a national strategy.

The Money Advice Service has been undertaking that vital role to date, and key stakeholders agree that that important work should continue and be expanded. The national strategy will succeed only if the new body works effectively with its many partner organisations in the financial services and other sectors in a collective effort with shared ownership and accountability. Indeed, the premise of the national strategy is that one organisation working independently has little chance of making a great impact, but many working together have more. The role of the new body will be to drive the process forward and oversee its implementation, but not to be solely responsible for the delivery of the strategy in its entirety. For those good reasons, I urge the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Briefly, in the words of the Minister, a national strategy will be pursued at the next stages, including a range of stakeholders and, I suspect, other enforcement bodies. Flowing from what the Minister said, the question is who will drive that at the next stages. The single financial guidance body will clearly and undoubtedly have a pivotal and central function.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I see the Minister nodding his head in agreement. In those circumstances, we look for a dynamic body to do precisely that: drive the national strategy. On that basis, I am content not to press the amendment.

Amendment 29 is part of the same group. Does the Minister wish to speak?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Amendment 29 seeks to add another strand to the three existing areas of the strategy set out in the Bill. The Government agree with the hon. Gentleman on the overall principle that the strategy of the new body needs to be future-proof and flexible, to meet the challenges that an evolving modern economy might bring. Clearly the Taylor review is relevant to all those factors, but we do not believe that the amendment is necessary. It lacks a specific focus and would risk diverting focus and resources from the areas that we believe the body should prioritise through its strategic function. As I understand it, the amendment is not sought by existing providers. In the circumstances, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

It is not for one moment our intention to divert focus from the body’s core and strategic function. All I would say is that the changes taking place in the modern labour market are immense, complex and often profoundly disturbing. To give one example from my personal history, in 2003-04, alongside Gillian Shephard, I chaired the coalition of support that resulted in the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. From plough to plate— from the National Farmers Union to the supermarkets—it sought to tackle some of the worst abuses of workers and the undercutting of reputable providers by rogues. My experience—like that of all Committee members, I suspect—is that there is much in the modern workplace and the world of work that is profoundly disturbing and needs to be tackled. Having said that, the Minister said himself that the body would take account of the demands in the modern labour market.

As far as the Taylor process is concerned, I know Matthew very well and his report contains some valuable proposals, although I do not agree with them all. It is helpful that on the Government’s part there has been a focus on the modern labour market, including the gig economy. In those circumstances, particularly in the light of what the Minister said about the context of the Taylor review and the demands of the modern labour market, I shall not press the amendment.

To clarify, amendments 27, 29 and 39 are part of a single group, so any Member who wishes to speak to any of the three amendments must do so now.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

“(9A) In seeking to improve the provision of financial education to children and young people, the single financial guidance body may advise the Secretary of State that—

(a) Ofsted should take into account the financial education provided by schools when carrying out inspections, and

(b) financial education should be added to the primary school education curriculum.”

This amendment allows the single financial guidance body to, as part of its function to improve the provision of financial education to children and young people, advise the Secretary of State that Ofsted should take account of financial education when carrying out inspections, and that financial education should be added to the primary school curriculum.

Some hon. Members may be surprised by the amendment, but I will explain why it is important. We believe that the provision of financial education to young adults in further and higher education—let alone to primary school children—needs to be improved. Young adults are an important age group not particularly well served under current arrangements. We believe that, where appropriate, education providers should incorporate financial education modules into programmes of study.

Thousands of young people throughout the country leave school without the necessary financial knowledge to approach critical situations such as applying for credit and mortgages. Research shows that 37% of 18 to 24-year-olds hold one or more credit cards, an overdraft or another form of borrowing, with average combined debts of £2,989, not including student loans or mortgages. The House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion heard that 51% of 18 to 24-year-olds regularly worry about money. Generally, half of all UK adults modestly rate themselves as having some understanding of financial products and services, while 15% say that they have a very good understanding and a minority of just 5% admit to having no understanding. Just 54% of the C2, D and E social classes say that they have some understanding or a very good understanding of financial products and services.

In September 2014, in a welcome move by the then coalition Government, financial education was added to the statutory national curriculum for secondary schools in England. Since then, schools have been required to include financial education as part of mathematics and citizenship teaching at key stages 3 and 4. However, there is still no requirement for English primary schools to include financial education as part of their teaching. In addition, as only 35% of state-funded secondary schools are now maintained schools, the obligation to teach financial education does not apply to nearly two thirds of all state secondary schools.

As Justin Tomlinson said on Second Reading:

“We live in a very complex society, with direct debits, standing orders and complicated marketing messages coming forward. Making sure that we equip all people of all ages to make informed decisions is an absolute priority.”––[Official Report, Financial Guidance and Claims Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2018; c. 62.]

Julian Knight said:

“The development of key skills and knowledge about money matters helps pupils and, indeed, their parents to make wise choices in later life, when innovations in financial technology and online consumer tools—not to mention the march towards a cashless society—will make previous experience and the advice of their elders an unreliable guide.” ––[Official Report, Financial Guidance and Claims Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2018; c. 95.]

In a world in which credit and financial services are more readily available than ever, it is vital that Britain’s young people are given the financial education they need to approach those challenges when they leave education. In the view of the Opposition, it is only through mandatory financial education in both primary and secondary schools that we can be confident that young people will be equipped both to achieve the best possible start in life, and to avoid being exploited by the ruthless.

Returning to my first point, some may ask whether financial education should be taught in primary schools. My experience is that it is crucial that children at young age—primary school age—are involved in crucial discussions that help them to understand the future and the challenges they will face. I will give two examples.

First, Jaguar Land Rover—an excellent company; the Jaguar plant is in my constituency—has a highly developed programme of operating in primary schools. That is because it is the kind of company that looks ahead two to five years, five to 10 years and 10 to 20 years. It always has a particular problem in the recruitment of skilled labour, and it wants, through its work in primary schools, to open up the horizons of primary school children more generally. That is very important in a constituency such as mine, which is rich in talent but is one of the poorest in the country and has high unemployment. In particular, JLR wants to encourage young girls to see themselves as having a future in engineering and car manufacturing. Its strong view is that, without starting that work at that age, by the time people get to secondary school and beyond, preconceptions are formed about what is appropriate for a young girl, and ultimately a woman, to do.

My second example is controversial, although it has cross-party support. I have worked very closely with the admirable Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which collaborates with the police and local authorities. I have seen it at first hand its programme in primary schools that uses a comic book format to teach children to spot risk and harm, to reject any obscene approaches and to know with whom they should talk if they feel themselves threatened. When we embarked down this path in Birmingham, where more than 100 primary schools have now used the programme, I remember some parents saying, “What? At primary school age?” Actually, in a non-threatening way, we absolutely want to make a start in helping children to understand the difference between family and friends on the one hand and those who would seek to exploit them on the other.

I am giving examples of important areas in which primary school children are equipped to deal with the modern world. And coming back to the issue of financial guidance, I suspect that not many primary school children have credit cards. Having said that, however, as they grow up they will need to know how to manage their finances, how to avoid exploitation by those who would seek to exploit their vulnerability and how to get the best possible start in life.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:15 pm, 1st February 2018

I rise to recount some of my own experience. I was fortunate enough to employ a financial capability adviser from 2000 to 2010, when I left, although I have to say that every time we applied for funding he changed his job title. That adviser went into primary schools as well.

I am wary about adding things to the curriculum, because I understand that teachers are hard-pressed, but it does not have to be teachers who do this work. We sent in the adviser; he did a recognised course with a teacher, which gave the teacher confidence to carry on his work later. The primary school children were really engaged in the lesson, because somebody from outside had come in, and we also went in with the credit unions, to encourage the children to start an early habit of saving, as well.

That is when children are really keen. It is competitive—who can save the most in their little account out of their pocket money and so on? It was really successful. The schools liked it. I would love to get the funding to go back now, to see how those “adults” are coping after having had that education at primary school level, but unfortunately that was not possible. However, I believe that that work helped.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady will be very pleased to know that Her Majesty’s Treasury, present in the form of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, provides the LifeSavers programme, which I am lucky to have bid for on behalf of my constituency, and which does exactly what she has just described. Her speech might be seen as a bid to continue the LifeSavers programme—it obviously has a life span—and then she would be able to bid for her community to be part of the programme in partnership with the Church of England and whichever credit union she wishes to support.

Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I shall make sure that Unify, my local credit union, gets a copy of that information.

One of the side effects of sending the adviser into schools, badged as the citizens advice bureau adviser, was that we encountered an upsurge in parents coming to us who were prepared to discuss their debts. It was as if having someone there who was talking to the children made them examine their finances; the children were going home and saying, “Look! We’ve been looking at this!” prompting their parents to examine their own finances, and then they already knew where to go to talk about their debt. So the work had that unintended consequence, which I must admit we found hard to deal with, given the resources we had. Nevertheless, it was really beneficial, so I would encourage the Minister to consider that as a proposal.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I should have said before that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Rosindell, and I welcome you to the Committee.

The hon. Member for Makerfield is right that a significant number of organisations provide, in a primary school setting, particular aspects of financial education in various shapes and forms, whether it is the Association for Citizenship Teaching, MyBnk, the Personal Finance Education Group or a variety of other organisations, and I would happily talk for some considerable period of time and overindulge the Committee on LifeSavers. As she knows, I set up a community bank in my constituency with Archbishop John Sentamu on 5 November 2015, and that community bank has bid for the LifeSavers project in Northumberland, and provides six schools with that financial education. We run six different banks in six different schools in my community. That work is extraordinarily successful. The original pioneer is in Lewisham, which I know the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, will be interested to hear, and the success rate has been wonderful.

The proposal is that the single financial guidance body should have a look at, and then come up with a strategic assessment of, what the provision of financial education of children and young people should be. I take issue with the Opposition on whether Ofsted should judge schools on the basis of financial education. I say, with respect, that it most definitely should not. Ofsted itself does not seek that, so I definitely disagree with paragraph (a) of the amendment. Ofsted, which has been consulted in broad terms, thinks that it would be inappropriate to inspect financial education specifically, since it usually inspects not individual subjects but the curriculum as a whole.

On the broader points raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, the curriculum is ultimately a matter for the Department for Education. He is right that financial education was brought into the secondary context under the coalition Government. Successive Governments have drilled down on the importance of maths, which is an absolute prerequisite and is fundamental to the education of our young people. The maths curriculum has been strengthened to give pupils from five to 16 the necessary maths skills, and I am sure he has seen in his own constituency the success of mental maths and advanced maths in primary schools. We responded to the House of Lords Committee’s report on financial exclusion in a similar way—I make the same case here.

It will be for the single financial guidance body to target specific areas of need, and to match individual funders and providers of education projects and initiatives aimed at children. The amendment is very broad brush. I would prefer the guidance body to be able to zero in on particular areas. That is the purpose of making overall assessment one of its strategic functions. That means that it will be better able to deliver what we all want: enhanced financial education for our children.

We agree about objectives, but I am not sure that we agree about the way forward for delivery. With respect, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield made a powerful point about the importance of primary schools as places of contact—sometimes the only place of contact—with people who are struggling in their lives. My experience from a number of projects is that what is done in primary school reads across to a child’s parents, so her point is very valuable indeed.

We can question how this should be done, but it is now public policy that children should be involved in financial education. A valuable start has been made with secondary schools, and we will seek at subsequent stages of the Bill to engage with the Government about how that might be extended further. There are questions about the context for that, including the overall maths context, but that can be teased out at the next stage.

Finally, if there is a coalition of support in the Committee for lobbying the Treasury on LifeSavers, I say: “Yes please, but don’t stop at LifeSavers.” On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 3, page 3, line 32, at end insert—

“(d) the understanding members of the public have on how the duties placed on financial service providers under the Equality Act 2010, including the requirements on service providers to make reasonable adjustments, can enhance their ability to manage their financial affairs.”

This amendment would ensure members of the public are informed about what financial services companies need to do to comply with the Equality Act, in particular the duty to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that members of the public are informed about what financial services companies need to do to comply with the Equality Act 2010—in particular, but not exclusively, the duty to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled customers. We are rightly proud of that landmark Act in this country, and I am particularly proud that it was introduced by a Labour Government. There have been subsequent problems with its implementation and, dare I say, without wishing to divert into areas where we would disagree, the implementation of clause 1 of the Equality Act is yet to take place. Having said that, on disability matters, there would certainly be consensus around ensuring that people who have problems with their health and who have disabilities of different kinds get the support that they need and are not taken advantage of.

Under the Act, a person is disabled if they have a “physical or mental impairment” that has

“a substantial and long-term adverse effect” on their ability

“to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

In that case, a duty to provide goods, facilities or services falls on providers, employers and a range of other parties. People automatically meet the disability definition under the Act from the day that they are diagnosed with a condition such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV infection.

If an organisation that provides goods, facilities or services to the public finds that there are barriers to disabled people in the way it operates, it has an obligation to act, including to consider making reasonable adjustments. If those adjustments are reasonable for that organisation to make, it must make them. That duty is sometimes described as anticipatory, which means that an organisation cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use its goods, facilities or services, but must think in advance and on an ongoing basis about what disabled people with a range of impairments might reasonably need.

An organisation is not required to do more than is reasonable for it to do—I stress that again—but that depends, among other factors, on its size and nature, and on the nature of the goods, facilities and services it provides. Making disabled customers and their advocates aware of that duty means that they will be able to ask their financial service provider to potentially adjust the GFS it offers and to remove any barriers.

Although I would be the first to accept that there is good practice in the sector when it comes to making adjustments for visual and hearing impairments, that is rarely done in the context of the legal framework. In certain circumstances, where that is not done and where conditions such as a cancer diagnosis or neuro-diverse disabilities such as autism, brain injuries and dementia are not considered, that means that people are let down and there is a failure to comply with the terms of the law. For example, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that 66% of people with dementia need some assistance when using a bank and 80% of carers said that banks need a greater understanding of lasting powers of attorney. On the one hand, there is the legal obligation, and on the other, there is an undoubted need for it to be complied with.

There is no reference to the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the Financial Conduct Authority’s handbook. Frankly, I am surprised at that. The handbook contains provisions set out in legislation that are relevant to the FCA and other provisions made by way of instruments by the FCA. It contains a mixture of rules, which are binding obligations that can result in enforcement action if not adhered to, as well as guidance. The amendment will ensure that disabled people or their advocates are informed about the duty to make reasonable adjustments and that they can use that information to ask financial service providers to make adjustments to the goods, facilities and services they provide, which could include removing physical barriers or making services dementia-friendly.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

It is a pleasure to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I will make three key points: I will discuss whether the Equality Act applies to this body in future; I want to give some assurances to the House on an ongoing basis, because that really matters; and I will briefly deal with the point about the duty of care.

It may have escaped the notice of some Committee members, who will have read every single paragraph and every line of every bit of this Bill, but fortunately I have been advised that paragraph 25 of schedule 3, on page 36, helpfully states that the Equality Act, rightly lauded by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, will apply to the single financial guidance body, which will be specifically treated like all public bodies. All Bills have or should have such a provision, to be fair. I believe that the 2010 Act is applicable; if there was any doubt, I hope that that will allay that particular concern. Obviously, it has to integrate the same duties of equality as all other public bodies.

I want to put on the record—this applies to all financial services, including the actions of the single financial guidance body—that if there is any doubt that an organisation is not complying with the Equality Act, there is a process that an individual can go through. They can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which is able to consider an individual firm’s compliance with the Equality Act and decide whether the individual consumer has been dealt with fairly and reasonably. More widely, a consumer can contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and there are plenty of examples of abuses being brought to its attention.

The FCA produced its consumer approach document on 6 November 2017, which sets out a vision of a well-functioning market for consumers and its strategy for achieving that, particularly relating to vulnerable and excluded consumers. Do I pretend that every single organisation is perfect in every way? No, of course I do not. However, I note that in her speech on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned the difficulty suffered by her constituent, whose name I think was Jacci. To its credit, Santander—I believe that was the bank—treated Jacci extremely well. My hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson gave a similar example of Nationwide treating his constituent very well.

I pay credit to Macmillan for its campaign on duty of care, and numerous other organisations could be named. The long and the short of it is that clearly, as a general obligation, there is a duty of care to all customers, both in contract law, because it is a service provided for a fee, and in the law of negligence if there is any breach. I am delighted that the Economic Secretary has indicated on behalf of the Treasury that he met Macmillan’s chief executive officer to discuss the duty of care.

Last Monday and today’s debates have shown that all financial services, and all public organisations, have a specific and important duty to all their customers and the consumers that we all serve. I hope that that message has got across to them. There are valuable examples of where they have done it right, and without any shadow of a doubt we should be lauding them. However, in terms of the statutory process in which we are engaged regarding amendment 30 and the application of the Equality Act, I invite the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions) 2:30 pm, 1st February 2018

I actually met Jacci and did a conference with her, and I thought what the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said on Second Reading was very powerful and moving, telling the story of a wonderful person and using it as proof positive of why we need to ensure—

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

Is it not true that other financial institutions could do what Santander did and voluntarily sign up to her “Dying to Work” campaign, which would help everybody that they deal with?

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

I strongly agree with the hon. Lady, and that is something we might pursue, including on a joint basis, at the next stages. The “Dying to Work” campaign’s objectives are right. To make the obvious point, she will have seen at first hand what a battle it is for people like Jacci, and I am sure that all of us have come across some very powerful cases in our constituencies. The banks and the financial institutions should absolutely, without hesitation, follow Santander’s lead. Santander is to be congratulated for what it did. Do we have a marketplace where everyone conducts themselves in the same way? No, we do not, so the hon. Lady raises a very valuable point.

In terms of the Minister’s response, it is welcome that, following Second Reading, the situation with regard to the Bill is unambiguous. I want to make two additional points. First, we will return to duty of care later. Secondly, the issue of enforcement is very important. The Equality and Human Rights Commission will have a watchdog role to play, but it is important that, from the start, the single financial guidance body is obliged in law to build into the culture of its operation, as we have argued, oversight of how financial institutions conduct themselves in terms of services, goods and facilities for the disabled.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the whole reason we introduced the vulnerable circumstances provision in the Bill was to address that exact point. I cannot stress enough, and I have made the point repeatedly today, that the objective specifically enshrined in the Bill is that the particular needs of people in vulnerable circumstances need to be borne in mind.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

That is welcome. All I will say is that, in our experience, there can be a law or a set of legal obligations, but are they necessarily carried out in practice? In fact, to take the Santander example once again, it took a view that it should do the right thing and that it was obliged by law to do so, but not every provider necessarily takes the same view. The issue of enforcement is key. I stress again that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a role to play, but at the heart of the SFGB’s operation should be action to ensure that the disabled are not disadvantaged. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5