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Will the Minister think again on that?

I want to ask about housing benefit in part 2 of the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Syms) and for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) had much of interest to say on that. In most of the pathfinder areas, the flat rate housing allowance has reduced the shortfall experienced by claimants between the benefit that they receive and the rent that they owe. We welcome that. However, clause 27 revises the local housing allowance model. It proposes changes to the methodology used to calculate the flat local housing allowance rates, to the room size criteria and to the cap on the amount that a claimant can retain. Will the Minister agree with Shelter, and with us, that before the Committee stage, the Department for Work and Pensions should publish its detailed modelling of the anticipated impact of those adjustments in the Bill?

I also want to ask about the controversial provisions in clause 28 for the loss of housing benefit following eviction for antisocial behaviour. Will the Minister reflect on what Barnado’s has said:

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The Bill will not succeed in helping people simply because it has broadly desirable aims. The nuts and bolts of reform must be right; the devil is in the detail. Conservative Members will thus challenge Government assumptions when we must. We will put forward modern Conservative alternatives when we can, such as proposing a system of payment by results, which would get more people off benefit more quickly. It is in the spirit of constructive criticism—and in that spirit alone—that we will give the Bill a Second Reading tonight.

9.45 pm

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Mr. Jim Murphy): I welcomed the tone and content of the speeches that we heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House. The debate was quite rightly passionate at times. I do not have enough time to respond to all the specific points raised by my hon. Friends and Opposition Members. We heard 20 speeches, including those made by my hon. Friends the Members for City of York (Hugh Bayley), for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), for Kingswood (Roger Berry), for Burton (Mrs. Dean), for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), for Edmonton (Mr. Love) and for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson). We also heard several sincere contributions from Opposition Members. Perhaps the most striking of those speeches was that made by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), who spoke with great passion and commitment.

We also heard from my hon. Friend—uniquely, for the purposes of this debate, given the way in which he strongly supported the proposals in the Bill—the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson). I can confirm to him that given the suspension of the Assembly, the proposals in the Bill will be part of a Northern Ireland welfare reform Order in Council. The roll-out of pathways will take place in 2008, which reflects our commitment throughout the country.

We heard 20 speeches with strong tone and content—up until the last one. In a debate about transforming people’s lives, the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) tried to transform the debate into one of personal insults and invective, which did him, his cause and case, and the contributions made by other Conservative Members no good.

The purpose of the Bill is to acknowledge the fact that too many long-term sick and disabled people have been written off for too long by the welfare system. The Bill will put that right. It is worth reflecting, as hon. Members did, on the progress that has been made in recent years. Less than five years ago, the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency worked in isolation from each other. In many towns, two separate offices stood on the same high street, which drew a profound physical distinction between those who could work to support themselves and those who were implicitly deemed to be beyond the scope of the labour market. That situation demonstrated the real need for organisational change, policy change and cultural change to our focus on the labour market.

The Bill will be underpinned by the national roll-out of pathways. In many senses, pathways is the
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culmination of the Jobcentre Plus approach of uniting help and support for our customers with a clear focus on work for those who can. Hon. Members spoke about their experiences of and aspirations for pathways when the national roll-out reaches their constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire talked with great passion about her assessment of the success of pathways in Derbyshire.

I have met people throughout the country whose lives have been literally transformed—and occasionally saved—as a consequence of the support that pathways and the advisers involved in it have been able to provide to those who are most in need of support. It is worth reflecting on the testimonies of those who have been supported by pathways. I sense that too many of those people were written off by society and employers in the past. Most importantly and tragically, however, in many cases, those people had given up on themselves and what they could contribute to society.

I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West, who talked about the wider impact of the reliance on incapacity benefit. The link between inactive benefits and child poverty has been well made. Reliance on inactive benefits not only in parts of Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, London and other great cities, but also in some of our rural communities, villages and towns, has become generational—as if it was an inherited benefit. There is a wider impact on life expectancy, which my hon. Friend has commented on before. The life expectancy in the poorest areas of Glasgow is a full 27 years shorter than in the most prosperous parts of London. Even within London, the levels of disparity between life expectancy are acute.

Lynne Jones: I share my hon. Friend’s praise for the pathways to work scheme, but does he share my concerns that his departmental evidence shows that the programmes are less effective in helping people with mental health problems? Will he ensure that when the new arrangements come in, we have programmes that help those most disadvantaged people, who are greatly discriminated against by employers?

Mr. Murphy: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but pathways has shown that folk with mental health illnesses, fluctuating mental health conditions and learning disabilities can be supported with the right level of tailored support, focused on their needs and on what they can still contribute to society and employment. That is an important distinction from what went before.

On the specifics, pathways is the most successful initiative of its type from any Government in this country. Some 25,000 job entries are a consequence of pathways, and it is testing a new and innovative approach, involving the private and voluntary sector, to support the specific needs, conditions, aspirations and abilities of the individual. I disagree with the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) that pathways will stifle innovation, and I do so for a number of important reasons.

In respect of the way in which we are constructing contracts, our current plans will allow for 70 per cent.
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to be paid on the basis of outcomes, with 30 per cent. set aside to enable others to enter the market and to provide cover for overheads for smaller organisations in particular. On the way in which we shape the outcomes, it is important that we construct the contracts in such a way that the private and voluntary sector does not simply help those whom it is easiest to support into work. That is an important distinction as we extend pathways through the private and voluntary sector.

In respect of support for those who have fluctuating mental health conditions and other fluctuating conditions, as my hon. Friends the Members for City of York and for Burton and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, it is important to reflect on the fact that the single biggest contribution to people coming on to incapacity benefit is fluctuating mental health conditions. That is a remarkable change in recent years. I can confirm that the reformed PCA process will take into account the fluctuating nature of many conditions of those on incapacity benefit. It will not be a snapshot of one experience at a point in one day. We will continue to assess individuals over a period of time. Key to that, however, is that we ensure that the staff in Jobcentre Plus and in private and voluntary sector providers have the level of skills, knowledge, empathy and understanding to ascertain the needs and experiences of the customers they support.

Danny Alexander: Before the Minister leaves the subject of pathways to work, will he address the questions raised on the level of funding? As I have said before, and as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) said, “pathways lite” will not be good enough to help people across the country.

Mr. Murphy: The Government agree. That is not our intention. We will fully invest in pathways so that it can be rolled out across the country. We will learn from the best experiences and replicate best practice, so that it becomes common practice. There is no question whatsoever of us underinvesting in what is the most successful initiative of its type in the history of active labour-market policies in this country in supporting people on inactive benefits.

On local housing allowance, about which hon. Members on both sides of the House asked, it is our intention to make payments directly to the tenant rather than to the landlord. It is part of the continuing effort on financial exclusion and personal responsibility. Evidence from the pilot schemes is that up to 25 per cent. of those who received the payments directly opened a bank account for the first time, which is an important advance in respect of financial inclusion. The policy is also part of an agenda to ensure that housing benefit should not simply be passive, whereby we treat the customer as a passive recipient.

I confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton that there will be continuing financial advice to customers about whom he so carefully asked and to whom he is so passionately committed. I confirm to other hon. Members that responsibility for setting the local rates will lie with the Rent Service in England and Wales and with rent officers in Scotland.

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A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House asked about the housing benefit sanction. It is our view as a Government and as Labour politicians that the antisocial behaviour that devastates lives, tears communities apart and terrorises neighbours can no longer be tolerated. The measures in the Bill are an important step in the continuing effort to drive up behaviour in some of our communities. It is important that the sanction is linked as part of a package to rehabilitation. The sanction will apply after eviction. It is about preventing someone being able after eviction to claim housing benefit and to perpetuate antisocial behaviour by moving from one community to another and continuing to terrorise law-abiding neighbours. I confirm that we intend to pilot the proposal in 10 English local authorities over two years.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House asked about the availability of regulations in draft. I confirm again that it is our intention to provide the key regulations in draft for Committee, which is entirely appropriate. In line with normal procedure for such legislation, we are talking about regulations concerning limited capability for work, limited capability for work-related activity, work-focused health-related assessments, work-focused interviews, local housing allowance and the housing benefit sanction.

One thing that has been missing from the debate has been the usual ritualistic, retrospective justification of the previous Government’s approach to this important issue of public policy. Occasionally, Conservative Front Benchers have flirted with an implicit apology for their record, but it is worth reminding the House what happened in the 10 to 15 years prior to our coming to power. Incapacity benefit numbers not only doubled but trebled under the previous Government. In 1995, 1 million people went on to incapacity benefit; in 1996, 1 million people went on to incapacity benefit. During that period, unemployment went over 3 million twice, and there was no pathways or equivalent. It is important to recognise the scale of the challenge that we faced.

Our approach is that no one should be automatically written off as they were in the past. An industrial injury, a fluctuating physical or mental health condition, should no longer enable somebody to be written off as they were in the past. This Bill is about the traditional Labour demand of the right to work for all. It is also an acknowledgment that the Government can go further in fulfilling our responsibility to provide support for every individual, giving them the chance to get into work and to stay in work, and every opportunity if they leave work to return to the labour market when appropriate. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A (6) (Programme motions),

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Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 80A (1) (a) (Carry-over of bills),

Question agreed to.


Queen’s recommendation signified—

Motion made and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52 (1)(a)(Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52 (1)(a)(Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),

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Question agreed to.



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