Memorandum submitted by Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (E&S 08)
ALL PUNISHMENT NO REWARDS FOR IMPOVERISHED YOUNG PEOPLE.
It would be better to reward young adults for participating in education or training, by giving them an adequate educational allowance, which can be fined if participation stops without good reason, rather than fining or stopping the current deeply inadequate benefits if they do not. This is also necessary when they are living with an unemployed family or a family receiving unemployment benefits or the national minimum wage because they are all below the government's poverty thresholds.
Proposed amendments are attached.
Back ground brief.
The Education and Skills Bill is continuing the endemic and institutional error among politicians and civil servants which favours penalties intended to make already impoverished citizens toe their policy lines rather than rewards or incentives to encourage them. All unemployment benefits are governed by an economic dogma of moral hazard which requires them to be kept so low that no rational person, it is believed, will immorally avoid the higher paid work that is available; however the rational person has noticed that survival and good health requires food, fuel, clothing, housing and transport in an expensive economy and that they compete for unemployment benefits and the national minimum wage which are at poverty levels; and that work does not always provide a better income than employment and it can result in State imposed debt with overpayments and clerical errors. We have cases wanting to refuse tax credits because they fear huge overpayments.
The National Minimum Wage, state pensions and unemployment benefits are all below the government's poverty thresholds; the unemployment benefits of single adults are half. The choices are therefore go without and suffer ill health or otherwise shoplift, thieve, fare doge, fail to pay the TV license, borrow at extortionate interest, or prostitution. The Home Office has reported that survival is the overriding motivation for prostitution. The unavoidable consequences are poverty related ill health, educational underachievement and crime the reduction of which would save the taxpayer £billions.
The failure of the Labour government to tackle child poverty over the last 10 years is profoundly depressing. The problem runs deeply into the government's political need to have us all believe that their policies have been effective. The facts are that under the Conservative reign from 1979 to 1997 the number of children in families with incomes less than official poverty threshold of 60% of the median income trebled; since 1979 nothing the Labour government has done has taken the number of children in poverty back to the 1979 figure. Indeed the claims of 600,000 children lifted out of poverty are all dated from 1997 and tell the public nothing about trends since 1979.
Furthermore the delivery of welfare has been deeply compromised by the introduction of tax credits. Instead of three government agencies delivering survival we now have four with a multiplication of complexity as the DWP, and two departments of each local authority, council tax and housing, wrestle with tentacles spreading from Westminster from the octopus of HM Revenue and Customs.
Some families that very rarely have a change of circumstances, are literate, articulate, can afford endless phone calls with a landline and not phased by officialdom have benefited; however we are current dealing with a case of a professional couple with children with an £18,000 overpayment due to 9 changes of circumstances over three years, all of which they reported; but many semi literate men and women move from welfare to work, to debt, to unemployment, to despair; they depend on a pay as you go mobile on which there are no freephone calls, which run out of money as they listen to the endless alternatives of four different agencies; they are treated with less than courtesy by underpaid, undertrained and overworked, dispirited civil servants and local authority staff, who make mistakes, whose numbers are being cut while their load get heavier.
Very many of the claimed 600,000 children officially lifted out of poverty will have parents with council tax and rent arrears, overpayments of tax credits, fines for poverty relate offences such as no TV license, which are having to be repaid out of unemployment benefits, all of which are below the government's poverty thresholds; likewise many of the 3.8 million children government admits remain in poverty. Debts of several thousand ponds are common.
To satisfy some misguided belief the electorate will vote for government's who are tough on the poor and vulnerable both major parties have some perverse pride in stopping the income of impoverished lone mothers who don't come to heel and take a job rather than stay with their children, not to mention reducing the incomes of people with slight but significant disability to a pittance in the purge of disability benefits, and now penalising young people who fail to stay in education until the age 18 by stopping their already inadequate income. I have been working with such households for over twenty years, during which their plight has got worse.
AMENDMENTS TO THE EDUCATION AND SKILLS BILL
DUTY TO PARTICIPATE - INCENTIVES
CHAPTER 1 OF THE BILL should be amended with respect to the duty to participate
Paragraph 2 (duty to participate is amended as follows)
"(3)Any person upon whom the duty under s.2 is imposed shall be entitled to a benefit or payment for each week that the young person is fulfilling the duty.
(4)The benefit shall or payment shall be payable until the young person ceases to participate by reason
(i) Reaching the age of eighteen
(ii) Achieving the level of qualification prescribed under section 3(2) or section 3(5) as the case may be
(iii) Being subject to enforcement action and the service of an attendance notice under Part 5
(iv) The person has ceased to participate for any other reason
(4) The benefit or payment payable to the person shall be a sum of equal to:
(5) The benefit or payment shall be payable to those who fall into section 4(1) (those with learning difficulties) who are undertaking appropriate full time education and training
(6)The benefit or payment may be suspended in full or in part in any week where if appears to the education authority that the young person is failing to fulfil the duty.
(7) The secretary of state shall make regulations providing that the benefit or payment shall be in addition to any benefit payable to the person or with whom he resides.
FAILURE TO PARTICIPATE
Remove existing Clauses 47 and 48 which will result in bureaucratic and unjust penalty system.
Clause 46 should be amended. After the words "The proceedings may not be instituted" DELETE current paragraphs 46(4)(a) and (b) and INSERT "unless the matters in Clause 47 and 48 have been considered by the Attendance Panel."
NEW CLAUSE 47 - Matters to be considered by an Attendance Panel
(1) When considering whether a young person has unreasonably failed to fulfil his duty under section 2 the Attendance Panel must consider:
(i)Evidence of the physical condition of the young person and his/her state of health
(ii)Evidence of the psychological state of health of the young person
(iii)Evidence relating to the means and income of the young person
(iv)Evidence of relating to the accommodation occupied by the young person
(v) The family circumstances of the young person and support given by parents and any matters of circumstances which could have caused or contributed to a failure to participate
(2) Regarding evidence as to means the Panel must consider
(i) The income of the young person
(ii) The capital of the young person
(iii) The expenditure of the young person
NEW CLAUSE 48
(1) In order to facilitate the enquiry into the matters set out in section 47 the Attendance Panel may:
(i) Arrange for a medical examination of the young person
(ii) Obtain information from any agency holding relevant information on the income and resources of the young person
(iii) Receive evidence from any other person or persons with a knowledge of the circumstances of the young person
(2) In consideration of the enquiries in (1) the panel may receive in evidence from the young person, his parent or guardian or from any other person holding relevant evidence
(3) If recommending prosecution it shall be the duty of the Panel to set down its reasons in writing and identifying the enquiries undertaken in respect of (1) and why it reached the conclusion that no other alternative to prosecution existed.
The Bill should be amended so that a magistrates' court shall not hear any proceedings unless first satisfied that the matters prescribed in new clause 47 have been considered by the Attendance Panel.
After Section 45 (Offence of failure to comply with an attendance notice) INSERT
(3)A magistrates' court shall not hear any proceedings unless first satisfied that the matters prescribed by section 47 have been considered by the Attendance Panel.