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(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..
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: 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 jobseekers allowance by £15. However, we will return to that on Budget day, when I am sure that the Government will implement that measure.
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. Friends the Prime Ministers 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 giventhe 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
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.
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
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 poundsa 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 debate about the so-called unemployed trap, and the so-called incentives that it is claimed will be needed to get the unemployed back to work, is designed to obscure what everyone knows. If there are no jobs, no amount of poverty and no degree of destitution will create jobs where none exist.[ Official Report, 27 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 1242.]
The Government need to do everything that they can to ensure that those jobs exist. They can doand are doinga 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.
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 elegantI mean eloquentway in which she presented
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 jobseekers 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 Chamberlains foreign policy or Benjamin Disraelis 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 colleaguesI 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 Bills provisions, it simply does not go far enough.
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