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17 Mar 2009 : Column 785

(d) the impact on claimants identified as having problems with substance misuse.

(e) the impact on the overall level of employment within organisations that operate work for your benefit schemes.’.

Amendment 16, page 4, leave out lines 12 to 20.

Amendment 17, in clause 2, page 4, line 22, at end insert—

‘(A1) This section does not apply in the case of a single parent of a child aged seven years or younger.’.

Amendment 35, page 4, line 22, at end insert—

‘(A1) This section does not apply in the case of a single parent with a child under five years of age.’.

Amendment 49, page 4, line 26, leave out from ‘with’ to ‘continuing’ in line 28 and insert

‘providing a person who is entitled to income support an entitlement to undertake personally tailored work-related activity in accordance with regulations while’.

Amendment 18, page 4, line 26, leave out ‘imposing on’ and insert ‘offering to’.

Amendment 19, page 4, line 27, leave out ‘a requirement’ and insert ‘an opportunity’.

Amendment 20, page 4, line 28, leave out ‘as a condition of’ and insert ‘while’.

Amendment 21, in clause 2, page 4, line 31, leave out ‘imposing on’ and insert ‘offering to’.

Amendment 50, page 4, line 31, leave out ‘imposing on’ and insert ‘entitling’.

Amendment 22, page 4, line 37, leave out ‘a requirement’ and insert ‘an opportunity’.

Amendment 51, page 4, leave out lines 37 to 39 and insert—

Amendment 23, page 4, line 39, leave out ‘as a condition of’ and insert ‘with’.

Amendment 24, page 5, leave out from line 2 to end of line 43.

Amendment 52, page 5, line 4, leave out ‘requirement’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 53, page 5, line 5, leave out ‘requirement’ and insert ‘entitlement’.

Amendment 54, page 5, line 7, leave out from ‘is’ to end of line 10 and insert

‘entitled to personally tailored work-related activity services can access those services and the amount of activity the person may access at any time.’.

Amendment 55, page 5, leave out lines 11 to 30.

Amendment 56, page 5, line 39, at end insert—

‘(c) for requirements that reductions shall not be applied where they may have adverse consequences for the wellbeing of children in a household or may worsen the severity or extent of child poverty.’.

Amendment 25, page 5, leave out lines 47 and 48.

Amendment 57, page 6, line 34, leave out from beginning to ‘may’ in line 35 and insert

‘An action plan must be reconsidered if the person to whom it is provided makes a request on reasonable grounds for reconsideration to occur and regulations’.

Amendment 58, page 6, leave out line 37 and insert—

‘(a) the factors that may be taken into account in deciding reasonable grounds;’.

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Amendment 59, page 6, line 44, leave out from beginning to end of line 14 on page 7.

Amendment 26, page 7, leave out from line 15 to end of line 8 on page 9.

Amendment 46, page 11, line 1, leave out Clause 4.

Amendment 47, page 15, line 41, leave out Clause 11.

Amendment 60, page 16, line 40, leave out Clause 12.

Amendment 61, in clause 19, page 23, leave out lines 38 to 45.

Amendment 62, page 23, line 46, leave out from beginning to end of line 10 on page 24.

Amendment 64, page 26, leave out lines 1 to 38.

Amendment 29, in page 31, line 24, leave out Clause 23.

Amendment 65, in clause 24, page 34, line 17, leave out from ‘period’ to ‘in’ in line 18 and insert ‘of one week’.

Lynne Jones: Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat surprised to be called as I had not realised that my new clause had been selected, so please forgive me if I am not quite ready. The new clause calls for an improvement in the level of unemployment benefit. At present, this benefit is set at just over £60 a week for those over 25 and it is somewhat less for those between 18 and 25.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): This is the removal of the younger rate.

Lynne Jones: I am not even sure which measure I am speaking to, but I am advised by my hon. Friend that this new clause would remove the lower rate that applies to young people.

John McDonnell: My hon. Friend tabled two excellent new clauses, the first of which would remove the younger rate and has now been selected. Unfortunately, the second, new clause 2, has not been selected. It would have increased the jobseeker’s allowance by £15. However, we will return to that on Budget day, when I am sure that the Government will implement that measure.

Lynne Jones: I had finally got round to appreciating what my hon. Friend said, but I thank him for his intervention.

We are in a recession, and unemployment is rising. It would be somewhat disingenuous to suggest that people are unemployed through their own fault. I recall my right hon. Friend’s the Prime Minister’s maiden speech back in 1983, and my right hon. Friend, who probably had ambitions to become Prime Minister but did not realise that he would achieve them, spoke with great passion about the low levels of benefit paid to those then on unemployment benefit. He castigated the then Government for considering that benefit rates should be kept low because it would give people an incentive to get work. He made a good case explaining why that was absolute nonsense. Sadly, we are back in similar circumstances.

Unlike the Government then, the present Government are actively helping people to get back into work, and I support the assistance being given—the training, advice and help. However, where I do take issue with my Government is on the fact that they still feel that people need to be given disincentives, in the form of benefit
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sanctions, in order to engage with the world of work. I disagree with that view, and so did the Prime Minister when he was a new Back Bencher.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give us an idea of what she thinks would be a fair level of unemployment benefit?

Lynne Jones: The other new clause that I tabled, which unfortunately was not selected, would have increased the basic level of unemployment benefit of £60 a week by £15 a week. That would be equivalent to increasing benefit in line with earnings, as opposed to prices. For those under 25, the rate is even lower, and I challenge any hon. Member to live on £60 a week, which is the main rate of benefit, and the rate that my new clause argues should apply to younger unemployed people. It is an impossible sum to live on.

The Government have been very generous with other benefits, such as those for pensioners. We allow pensioners to live on no less than double the amount that is available as unemployment benefit and nearly three times the amount available to younger claimants. In addition to a more generous basic level of income, pensioners are quite rightly entitled to other sources of income and means of making life easier, such as free travel passes, the winter fuel allowance and the like.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The hon. Lady makes a very important point. Does she recall that the background of less money being paid to young people was the Tory changes of 1988? We moved from a system in which there was a householder rate and a non-householder rate, the presumption being that someone should get more if they had a house to run, to a system of an over-25 rate and an under-25 rate. That was done on the basis that the Tories thought that young people up to 25 ought to be living with their parents. Does she accept that the present system discriminates against young people who have to live independently, perhaps through no fault of their own? They are treated as non-householders, to use the old language, when in fact they may be householders.

Lynne Jones: I agree entirely, and I have personal experience of that. I had to leave home at 18, before I went to university, because conditions at home had become so difficult. I am sure that that must apply to many young people. By the time I was 21 or 22, I was in a position to buy my own home. Few young people are in that position today, but even those living at home are expected to make contributions to the running of the household. I believe that it is impossible for them to live on £45 a week. The purpose of the new clause is to remove that punitive level of benefit for young people. However, we must do everything that we can to assist young people into work and to make the programmes that we will discuss later as effective as possible.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): The new clause is laudable, and in an ideal world we would all want to support it, but can the hon. Lady tell the House what it would cost each year to give the higher level of unemployment benefit to the under-25s? Does she have an estimate of that? I believe that it is relevant, given
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that resources are tight. The Government have a difficult job in deciding how best to spend their limited resources, upon which there are many demands.

Lynne Jones: I do not have the precise total figures, but it would be £750 a year for each unemployed young person. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman can probably work out the total, but it is probably a few hundred million pounds—a sum that pales into insignificance compared with what is being handed out to banks and what has been taken as retirement pay by just a few bankers. Money put towards unemployed young people would be much more likely to help to stimulate demand in the economy than money that goes to failed bankers. Despite the financial problems that we face, it is immoral to expect young people to have to live on such a small amount of money. I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman nodding his head, and I hope that he will support the new clause.

In conclusion, I wish to give a quotation from the speech that I mentioned earlier; it was made by the current Prime Minister on 27 July 1983. He talked about the unemployment benefit level of £26 a week. That was 26 years ago, and my right hon. Friend felt that it was a completely inadequate sum. Yet here we are today, and unemployed people have to survive on less than twice that amount despite the inflation that has occurred in between. My right hon. Friend said:

The Government need to do everything that they can to ensure that those jobs exist. They can do—and are doing—a considerable amount, unlike the party that was in government in 1983. However, the Government of my right hon. Friend, who expressed those sentiments when he first entered the House, should use the power that is now in their hands to pay reasonable benefit to people who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

4 pm

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): My hon. Friend started her comments by explaining that the new clause was motivated by a concern for people who have lost their jobs as a direct result of the recession. Does she envisage some sort of sunset provision for the new clause? When, inevitably, we move to a period of economic growth and there are more jobs in the market, the new clause will not have its current force.

Lynne Jones: No, I do not envisage that, because I believe that it is fundamentally wrong to discriminate against young people. Unfortunately, the new clause would not uprate general unemployment benefit. The principles are that discrimination should end and that no one should be expected to live on such a meagre amount of benefit.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady, although I do not agree with the substance of her amendments. I congratulate her on the elegant—I mean eloquent—way in which she presented
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her case. Although she was eloquent, as well as elegant, I must advise my hon. Friends to vote against her amendments because they would reduce whatever value the provisions contain.

As the hon. Lady explained, the new clause is an attempt to increase jobseeker’s allowance. Although it was not selected, she tabled another amendment, which specified £15 a week as the amount by which she wanted it increased. The group also includes amendments that would make the work-related activity that clause 2 requires of certain benefit claimants voluntary, and others that would make the “work for your benefit” schemes, which apply to people after two years of unemployment, pilot schemes so that they do not immediately take effect. Some of her hon. Friends would do away with the provisions for contracting out welfare-to-work services—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Some Labour Members shout, “Hear, hear.” However, the provisions are an important aspect of the Bill, although they do not go nearly as far as Conservative Members would go, or nearly far enough, given the scale of the problem that the country faces.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) has tabled similar amendments and I look forward to hearing his case for them. The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) mentioned 1988 and a voice behind me tempted me to say that next week we might hear about Neville Chamberlain’s foreign policy or Benjamin Disraeli’s mistakes with the title of Empress of India. At least the hon. Gentleman said a little more than the hon. Member for Rochdale said in Committee. We wait to hear the Liberal Democrats say where exactly they stand on welfare reform and the principles that they would follow, instead of talking about 1988.

Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): Does the Conservative party believe that we should discriminate against young people in the amount of JSA that they receive? Should not they receive the same as everybody else?

Mr. Clappison: I have made it clear, I hope, that we will not support the proposals made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), but Liberal Democrat Members’ comments suggest that they might do so, which would add that to the already-long list of Liberal Democrat spending commitments. We look forward to more forthrightness, because we have not had much so far.

We are clear where we stand. We will vote against the amendments standing in the name of the hon. Lady and her colleagues—I thought that I had already made that clear, but I will do so again. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] The amendments would remove what value there is in the Bill, which does not go far enough. We want a more thoroughgoing approach to welfare reform, and although, by and large, we approve of the Bill’s provisions, it simply does not go far enough.

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