Draft Jobseeker's Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2002

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Paul Holmes (Chesterfield): I am pleased to welcome these proposed amendments to the jobseeker's allowance regulations. They represent a step towards greater recognition of the value of volunteering. That value applies in three ways: to the individual, who gains confidence, skill and practice, all of which contribute to improved employability; to the community, which receives the services provided by

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the volunteers; and to the economy—first, through the real economic value of the voluntary work of thousands of people, and secondly, in the long term, through the more highly skilled work force that is produced. Voluntary work is a great step towards paid employment.

For the long-term unemployed in particular, the 48-hour rule has acted as a disincentive to volunteering, discouraging those on JSA who fear having to let a voluntary organisation down at short notice. It has also prevented organisations from encouraging volunteers on JSA for the same reason.

I am glad that the changes are proposed, and that the Government have put volunteering firmly on the agenda through, for example, the target of increasing community involvement by 5 per cent. by 2006. However, we need not only to increase the sheer numbers of people who volunteer but, in some cases, to extend volunteering to groups that are sometimes excluded, and disabled groups in particular.

I ask the Minister to consider two issues. One is the position of voluntary carers, who are looking after family members. They have difficulty in being immediately available for a job interview or for work. The 48-hour notice period for interviews and the extension of notice before starting work to one week would help that group, too.

The second issue is that the current provisions to take notional income into account do not apply to volunteers engaged in work for a charitable or voluntary organisation, but volunteers in other placements can be hit by the assumption that they are earning notional income because of where they are volunteering. For example, some of my constituents who have volunteered to work on sure start initiatives have recently been told that they would count as being in paid work, because others in the same workplace and in the same job are being paid a wage. That case is ongoing.

Another example, from roughly a year ago, is that of a girl who left school at 16. She had gone to work in an office but was made redundant. Rather than sit around at home, she went back to the school, which she had left two years earlier, and volunteered to work in the school office to keep her office skills honed and carry on learning IT skills and so forth. She was told that she would be counted as earning a notional income, because she was working in a job for which someone would normally be paid a wage. I hope that the Minister will consider carefully those matters of concern.

4.46 pm

Malcolm Wicks: We have had a short but well-informed debate. It has certainly been helpful.

I shall first deal with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). He sought assurances on draft regulation 3 on carers. The regulation brings about no change in the provisions for carers. It simply replicates existing regulations, as he suspected. I think that that relates also to a point

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made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes).

We plan to take the evaluation seriously. It will be contracted to an external researcher who has substantial experience in the voluntary sector, and it will involve a number of research methods. We will publish the evaluation—indeed, I will make a note to send copies to members of this Committee. Although we do not start with the assumption that the measures will be abused—and I made that clear earlier—we have to guard against such possibilities, and it is proper that the evaluation should be available to members of the Committee in particular, as well as Members of Parliament generally.

The regulations adopt quite a wide definition of voluntary work. Work can be done for a non-profit organisation or anyone other than a member of the claimant's family. Obviously, like anything else, the provision could be open to abuse, but we approach the matter in an open spirit and hope that it will not be abused. However, the evaluation could help us to consider that, too.

It just so happens that, before the Committee began, I spoke to a volunteer who works in my constituency office. That experience will not be unique to me, and I am sure that other hon. Members have had volunteers work for them. The volunteer had a period of disability, and a voluntary organisation found him a placement with my office. He was telling me about the job interviews that he is to attend in the coming weeks. That shows that although I do not think that any of us are referred to as voluntary organisations, we would not want to adopt too narrow a definition.

The Employment Act 2002 for the first time introduced the notion of pay for people who have recently adopted a child. That brought arrangements in line with those that had existed for a long time for maternity leave and pay and those under the Act for paternity pay. The hon. Member for Canterbury said that he regarded such things with suspicion, and I hope that he will be satisfied that we approach important matters relating to adoption in a good spirit through the Employment Act 2002—mainly—and the regulations.

Mr. Brazier: Is the answer to my question yes, then? Is the elimination of the possibility for a person to make a double claim for jobseeker's allowance and the adoption allowance the only change that the regulations make to the position of adoptive parents?

Malcolm Wicks: Yes. If a person receives maternity or paternity adoption pay, it would be ridiculous if he or she turned up at an office to claim jobseeker's allowance. The arrangements are brought in line with those for maternity pay. Disregards, which occur when people earn small amounts, are not affected by the regulations, and the current situation remains.

The hon. Member for Chesterfield welcomed our approach on volunteering. He spoke eloquently about the major role that volunteers play. For example, from memory, I think that about 250,000 of our citizens are school governors. Our volunteers form a colossal army of good. I hope that we are recognising the importance

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of volunteering, in a small way, through our social security rules.

If I need to bring other matters to the attention of those who asked me detailed questions, it might be appropriate if I write to them. We have had a good, short meeting, which is how meetings should be. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

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Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Jobseeker's Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2002.

Committee rose at eight minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Atkins, Charlotte
Blizzard, Mr.
Brazier, Mr.
Galloway, Mr.
Holmes, Paul
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mallaber, Judy
Pollard, Mr.
Wicks, Malcolm

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