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We also know one other thing—I certainly know this, from my experiences of working with my constituents. One of the big factors in determining whether people participate in training, work-related activity or employment
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is risk aversion. People are damaged by risk, and parents are particularly risk-averse—I think it is hard-wired into us. We do not want people to be put into a situation where their income plummets and rises again, so that there are all kinds of consequences for them in terms of benefits. Also, any sanctions that apply to their benefits will often have knock-on impacts in terms of their housing. Other people then get to know about that, and word gets around, so people do not want to participate in any of these schemes that will take them further down the road towards their being subject to the risk of consequences that will upset them and their children.

John McDonnell: I wholeheartedly share my hon. Friend’s views on incentivisation—we have discussed that—and on sanctions not working. They not only do not work, but they are counter-productive at times. Most of us have seen—particularly through the asylum regime—that not only are they driving people into absolute poverty in some instances, but they also drive them into the employment black market where they can be more exploited, especially through illegal employment. This, therefore, becomes deeply counter-productive for certain groups within our society.

Ms Buck: I do not disagree with that. No system of benefits can survive without sanctions. They are an essential part of any such system: there will always be some people who deliberately undermine the system and calculatedly refuse to participate, so they are necessary. However, sanctions should be a measure of failure of the system, not a measure of its success. I am not saying that they are regarded by the Government as a measure of success, but I think that, subliminally, they almost are; it is as if the attitude is, “Well, we’ve managed to catch this many people doing something wrong and sanction them, and that shows the system’s working.” That is not the case. We in this House should always keep an eye on what is happening to levels of sanctions, and be very concerned when they rise.

The core point of new clause 8 is that sanctions must be balanced with incentives. We do that in terms of the employment and support allowance, but we do not do it in respect of lone parents. I think that the system is broadly right—I do not have any fundamental principled concerns about it. However, if we are going to make it work, we need to make sure that sanctions are borne down on and are matched in all cases with the incentives that we know work.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I must express my disappointment that there are so many wrecking amendments from Labour and Liberal Democrat Members. The idea that we can bring about the major change required in this Bill through merely voluntary means, by offering and providing opportunities, strikes me as ludicrous. I am also still unclear about the scale of the change in the current welfare system that Labour Members believe is required.

I could not believe my ears when I heard that there was no evidence available to support the Government and ourselves on this issue. As a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I sat through an extremely valuable inquiry on the commissioning strategy, which was full of evidence. I fully admit that evidence can always be evaluated differently, but it is simply not
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the case that there is no evidence to support the Government. I hope that those of us who had the privilege of speaking to and questioning Professor Gregg will have been impressed by the academic research and evidence that went into what he had to say.

May I cite an example of two single mothers whom I met when I went to my local Jobcentre Plus and, with their permission, sat through their interviews? One of them had rushed to the jobcentre within an hour of getting a job to make sure that she was signed off from every possible involvement with Jobcentre Plus, not because the experience of working with the people there had been bad, but because she wanted a job. She required neither conditionality nor incentives; she just wanted to be in employment.

That single mother was shortly followed by a young mother from a similar background and of a similar age. Her attitude was that producing a child was her contribution to society—she thought it was all that was required—and no incentive would have convinced her otherwise. She is surely a good example of the need for personalised support and conditionality. How is a scheme of offerings and opportunities likely to work in practice in the example I have just given?

John Mason: Does the hon. Gentleman not think that if that young woman had the opportunity of a higher income, she, wanting the best for her child, would be incentivised into work?

John Howell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but the answer to it must be no. I had the benefit of sitting through that woman’s interview, and she had fundamentally made up her mind that she had done her bit for society and other issues were not going to get in the way. There has been the tragedy of a wasted decade in welfare reform and I do not wish things to be further hampered by any of these amendments being passed.

The only amendment that deserves support is amendment 35, which deals with the absence of child care. Government changes over the past couple of years have created considerable fears in my constituency that the mixed child care economy of public and private provision, of which we are justly proud, is being undermined and that private providers might go to the wall. In addition, when my county introduced school provision for four-year-olds, which was welcomed as an issue of choice, it was quite clear that parents overwhelmingly believed that four was too young. People were very happy with the idea of five, because it is part of letting go of one’s children and there were good practical reasons for it.

My final point deals with contracting out and the so-called privatisation. Listening to some Labour Members, one would think that the whole of Jobcentre Plus will disappear tomorrow into private sector hands. The evidence that we were given on the commissioning strategy pointed to the fact that the inclusion of the private sector can lead to considerable innovation in the service provided, particularly that provided to the long-term unemployed. On that basis, I hope that we will be sensible about these amendments and allow the reforms to go through. As my hon. Friends have mentioned, they do not go far enough, but they are a step in the right direction at the right time.

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John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): Before I discuss my amendment 36, I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones), who was aided and abetted by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell); after a standing start, she certainly got into her swing with the help she was given. I may not necessarily agree with everything she said, but I have some sympathies with her proposals.

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will be glad to hear that I wish to discuss just my amendment 36 and am not going to go through every amendment—that would mean that we would be here all night. If we are to place additional requirements on parents as part of these reforms, we need to make sure there is adequate support before the conditions kick in. I recognise the need to get people into work, particularly in the current times—it is important that people have that opportunity. However, with the prospective Bill on child poverty and the difficulty of reaching our targets on this, we need to make sure children are at the forefront of our minds when we consider the effect of these reforms. We cannot put extra strain on parents if they cannot afford it—that would mean that they would be left worse off by the welfare system, and that was never the intention.

Given the increasing obligations to be placed on parents who are unemployed, there is particular concern over the lack of high quality, flexible and affordable child care, particularly in Scotland. My amendment seeks to make sure that that is considered before strict conditions are placed on parents. It is a probing amendment—for the third time—to ensure that the Government have been listening and that children are at the heart of these reforms.

My right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform recognised the issues involved, both on Second Reading and in Committee, and undertook to revisit them on Report. We are now on Report and I look forward to his reply. I know that he has been looking at the matter, which is why I have re-tabled this provision.

I wish to thank the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, which has helped me with this amendment. The group includes more than 40 organisations that work with people experiencing exclusion and poverty in Scotland, and when it was discussed in Committee the amendment attracted media coverage north of the border due to the group’s excellent work. The provision seeks to make sure that unless a claimant has good access to affordable child care they will not be faced with a Catch-22 decision between benefits and making sure that their children are looked after.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) made a good point that my amendment missed out: the cover provided for older children. I ask the Minister to have a word with his colleagues who deal with schools about after-school care and pre-school care, to ensure that children are looked after while parents are working and that the care that they get is sufficient for their needs and their education. That would go a long way to help remove the fears that my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North has about whether older children are being looked after.

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I wish to focus on the lack of child care in Scotland, because the Minister recognised that on Second Reading. According to figures from One Parent Families Scotland, more than 50,000 children could be affected by the planned changes. There are limited means of systematically monitoring Scottish-wide provision, so it is difficult to get a precise picture and no one can produce any knock-down statistics. However, there are a number of important factors that I would like to bring to the House’s attention. First, there is a precedent for ensuring that child care arrangements in Scotland are taken into account in legislation. Implementation of provisions in the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was delayed in Scotland for four years because removing benefit entitlement was based on alternative care arrangements in England and Wales that were not in place in Scotland—these differences remain today. There is no legal entitlement to child care in Scotland, unlike in England and Wales. There is no subsidy for child care for two-year-olds in Scotland, again unlike in England and Wales. There is no UK-wide equivalent of the Childcare Act 2006, which puts a duty on local authorities in England and Wales to secure as far as is practical sufficient child care to meet the needs of working parents. I hope that that message has been heard north of the border and that Scotland will put its house in order to meet the same requirements as exist in England and Wales.

6 pm

John Mason: The hon. Gentleman suggests that Scotland’s house is not in order. Does he accept that in some ways that is a result of history? When we were younger, child care and nurseries were hardly heard of. The speed of change in Scotland may be different, but we have already heard that child care provision is inadequate in many parts of the UK, not just in Scotland.

John Robertson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, which is one more than he made when we had this discussion in Committee. What he says does not mean that we do not have to supply child care today. I actually went to nursery school before I went to primary school—I was going to say that it made me the man I am today, but perhaps it made me half the man I am today. The important point is the obligation. It is not a question of whether Scotland’s child care is better than the child care in England and Wales: the most important element is the obligation on the local council to ensure that when the Bill comes into force and parents are forced into work, there is sufficient child care to meet their needs. I am not claiming that England is better than Scotland or vice versa. I just want to ensure that local councils have an obligation to provide the service, so that the parents have some recourse if the child care is not made available. Lack of child care would be more than an excuse for not going into work, and it is difficult to work for people who are worrying about their child.

The DWP document “Impact Assessment of the Welfare Reform Bill”, published in January, emphasised the importance of child care and recognised the risks of imposing obligations on parents. However, it stated that the risks were mitigated by the improvements in England and Wales as a result of the Childcare Act, which places a duty on local authorities in those countries to secure
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sufficient child care for working parents. Given that there is no such duty in Scotland, the risks of imposing conditions on parents clearly remain.

We also know that things have been moving in the wrong direction in recent years. Between 2006-08, there was a fall in the number of child care centres and child minders in Scotland from 10,388 to 10,322. It is a small fall, but any reduction is going the wrong way, because we should be seeing an increase. Cost, particularly for single parents and those couples with low incomes, is the biggest hurdle to getting a good job with an income to support their family. So it is of real concern that figures from the Daycare Trust show that the cost of out-of-school child care in Scotland increased by 29 per cent in the last 12 months, while the cost of a nursery place rose by 12 per cent.

I ask the Minister whether the Government have spoken to their counterparts in the Scottish Executive to ensure that the child care obligation can be met. I note that no one has criticised my questions, so I assume that everyone agrees that this is an area that needs looking at. I have been disappointed by the official Opposition. I tabled amendment 36 because in Committee everyone seemed to be in favour of the proposal, but the official Opposition have given no indication of whether they support the amendment or even whether they think that it is a good idea. Do they care about child care or not?

John Mason: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Robertson: I would rather hear from the Conservatives, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

John Mason: If the hon. Gentleman is so passionate about this issue, why will he not press amendment 36 to a vote?

John Robertson: A probing amendment is just that. If their lordships want to press this issue to a vote, that is up to them. I want to try to obtain an extra four years for Scotland to ensure that we match the facilities provided in England and Wales. Why would I push an issue to a vote when I am seeking an extension for Scotland before the Act comes into force?

In conclusion, I wish to emphasise that there are clear differences in child care provision in parts of the UK, such as Scotland. We clearly need to take great care in ensuring that the conditions placed on parents are not counter-productive in helping them into work and that, in no circumstances, do we leave them in a Catch-22 situation over child care. The Bill is based on what is happening in England and Wales, not in Scotland. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Mr. Rooney: I wish to speak to amendments 42 to 47. Amendments 42 to 45 deal with clause 1, which covers “work for your benefit” schemes, or as it has been called today, Workfare. There has been much quoting—perhaps I should say misquoting—of various research and of what the Select Committee said about this subject. It is important to put the issue in context.

In the US, Workfare was defined as mandated participation in unpaid work activities as a condition of receiving social assistance. In New York, it applied from day one of a claim for assistance. In Wisconsin, the
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system was corrupt from the start, with certain organisations—which are trying to set up in this country now—milking the system and making millions out of it, while claimants got nothing. Workfare never worked in Wisconsin, although some people got very rich—contractors as well as politicians.

At the height of the system in New York, in 1999, some 40,000 people were on Workfare. Today, there are 3,000, because the authorities have realised that it does not work. The scheme that was being operated in New York was nowhere near what is proposed in the Bill. Hon. Members can object to the scheme in the Bill, but it is not Workfare as operated in New York. Australia had a totally different system. It did not take effect until people had been on benefit for six months and all Workfare was in the non-productive sector. In fact, there was great concern that people were getting no work experience at all, and it largely failed in Australia for that reason.

It is claimed that there is no evidence that Workfare works. In fact, in New York, it worked as a massive incentive for people to cancel their benefit claim or not to claim in the first place. That is what happens under a proper Workfare system that operates from day one of the benefit claim. The “work for your benefit” proposal does not take effect until people have been on benefits for two years. Frankly, if our employment services cannot get someone into work after two years, there is something wrong with the system to start with.

We know, from the work trials for lone parents that have been done with Marks & Spencer and other organisations, that they work. Generally, the person works for four weeks and demonstrates capability—not least being able to arrive on time—and the vast majority of those people get jobs. That is what the direction of travel has to be.

John McDonnell: The Government’s scheme is called “work for your benefit”, so I think that it can be translated into a requirement to work to receive benefit. I commend the schemes that my hon. Friend has recommended, which are voluntary schemes.

Mr. Rooney: There are different definitions of voluntary. The schemes are largely voluntary, but I think that there are hidden pressures behind them. However—this is where I have to take exception with my hon. Friend—such schemes work. When something works, why not—

John McDonnell rose—

Mr. Rooney: No, my hon. Friend will have to wait. He spoke for 40 minutes; will he let me have a go for five minutes?

When something works, why not extend the opportunity to take part in it to others?

There is an issue about compulsion, but let us deal with the matter in general—let us not deal with lone parents. If somebody has been on benefit for two years and has had every type of assistance going, if they have been through the ordinary new deal and the flexible new deal, if they have had intensive programmes and a skills audit and if they still do not have a job, that suggests that something is missing.

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