|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, referring to Clause 6, it is clear that the subject matter of the regulation is what is contained in subsection (2) (a) and (c). Those paragraphs simply define and interpret the law to the facts of the particular case, according to my understanding.
In introducing the initiative of the agreement we have sought to ensure that the jobseeker is fully protected against being required to take any unreasonable steps. If an agreement cannot be reached, both the jobseeker and employment officer will be able to refer proposals for an agreement to independent adjudication and appeal.
A number of associated points were raised. For example, the noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Hollis, raised the question of the Employment Service having a target for disallowing benefit. This is not a target for disallowance or suspension of benefit. It provides a requirement for Employment Service staff to meet high standards of quality and accuracy in the submissions that they make to the independent adjudication officers. A question was also raised about the reduction in the contributory period for the jobseeker's allowance. It is important to appreciate that this is not a contributory scheme. The national insurance scheme is a pay-as-you-go scheme, and it is an established principle that Parliament can alter the rules with reasonable notice.
I turn to the proposals for jobseeker's directions that have received some criticisms. I do not accept them. Of course, there may be occasions when a jobseeker is not prepared to accept the help offered to him and will not agree to make reasonable efforts to secure a job. In those circumstances, it is entirely reasonable that the Employment Service adviser should be able to require the jobseeker to make the most of the available opportunities, whether it be to undertake training or to improve jobsearch skills. It goes without saying that claimants will always be treated reasonably and fairly. Any decisions to impose a benefit sanction will be made by an independent adjudication officer. He will decide whether a direction is reasonable in the light of the claimant's circumstances. No sanction will be imposed on a claimant who can show that he has good cause for refusing or failing to carry out a direction. Benefit will continue to be paid in full until the adjudication officer has made a decision.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about the status of the adjudication officer. He is an independent officer and is ultimately subject to the rules of natural justice in the exercise of his tasks. We regard it as important that decisions on questions that arise from claims for jobseeker's allowance will be taken by independent adjudication officers. I emphasise that there is no truth whatsoever in the suggestion that decisions on JSA will be privatised.
The introduction of JSA will mean a number of changes to the manner in which adjudication decisions are taken in the Employment Service and in the Benefits Agency. We are currently considering those changes and are continually looking at ways to improve the speed of adjudication decisions. If locating some adjudication decisions closer to the work with individual jobseekers will speed the process of adjudication and give claimants a better service, it is right that such ideas should be properly considered and piloted if appropriate. I hope that your Lordships will welcome such a commitment to improving services.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Turner and Lady Dean, together with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, raised the question of the possible danger in Employment Service offices during the exercise of their jobseeker's allowance functions. The functions previously carried out by the DSS and the Employment Service have been brought together. The document to which reference was made was one that was leaked but not taken further forward. Clearly, it is important that there is safety for staff in the offices. That is a matter which must be properly taken into account. At the same time we must make sure that the premises are user-friendly for those who are to go into the offices. I assure my noble friend Lady Park that proper training will be given to those who are involved in administering the new system.
A number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Ashley, my noble friends Lord Dean of Harptree and Lord Swinfen and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, raised anxieties about disability issues. Throughout the planning of the new benefit the Government have been concerned that we should include and not exclude people with disabilities, and that we address their needs specifically and not assume that somehow they will fit in. No disabled person need face exclusion from both incapacity benefit and JSA. There will be no grey area between the two benefits. If a person is found capable of work through the new tests for incapacity benefit that decision will apply also to JSA. Of course, all JSA claimants must be available for employment, but we recognise that some people's mental or physical condition may cause them difficulties in making themselves available for the full range of employment opportunities. Therefore, we will make specific provision in JSA that they should be able to restrict their availability to the hours of work that they are able to undertake within the limits of their condition.
The Employment Service offers a range of specialised services to people with disabilities. Every week they help over 1,000 disabled people into work; and next year they aim to do even better. The new challenging targets for the Employment Service announced last week will call for that service to place 75,000 in jobs, the highest total ever.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, raised the question of discrimination against disabled people. This is a matter that will be fully and widely dealt with in the context of the disability Bill that will be discussed in this House before too long.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen raised the question of the cost of medical evidence in cases of restricted availability. He referred to some remarks that had been made by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the other place. This matter is still under consideration, and we shall return to it at Committee stage.
Another group whose special needs your Lordships are concerned about are those jobseekers with caring responsibilities. As my noble friend the Minister of State emphasised, the Government accept the special
As has been mentioned, on many occasions the House has debated the help and support which the Government provide for 16 and 17 year-olds. I should like to begin by emphasising once more that the Government guarantee every young person who is not in employment or full-time education a suitable training place if they want one. That comes with an allowance which in many cases is topped up by a trainer. Most young people need not, and should not, look to the benefit system. They should not become dependent upon benefit.
We are spending £676 million on youth training in Englanda significant investment in the future of our young people and the nation's economy. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne made the point about the lack of constructiveness of training just for the sake of training as opposed to training to help people, and that was a point that was well taken.
If young people are in a vulnerable group, or if they are at risk of severe hardship because a suitable training place and allowance have not been provided, we will provide for them and continue to do so. There is no change in policy in JSA in that respect. But young people should take any suitable opportunity of training, or work with training, that is offered to them. A minority of young people should not be allowed to abuse the system by rejecting without penalty the help offered. That is why we are ensuring in JSA that there is a clear and fair system of sanctions for young people.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lady Park asked why the allowances for those under 25 are not the same as those for a higher age group. The answer is simple. It is that they do not have the same earning expectations and commitments as those who are older. At the same time, I must emphasise that, where there are families, they of course are entitled to income-based JSA like any other family.
A number of speakers, in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Dean, Lady David, and Lady Hollis, and my noble friend Lady Park, urged the Government to look further into the matter of benefit provisions to allow unemployed people to study while still receiving benefit. Full-time students are not allowed to claim unemployment benefits, because it is not their first priority to find a job. Those who wish to study full-time should look elsewhere for support. The benefit regime
Of course I accept, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, said, that courses of study can help unemployed people to get back to work. That is why unemployed people are currently allowed to study part-time and to continue to claim benefit, provided that they remain available for and are actively seeking work. That will continue under JSA. But the current rules are becoming increasingly difficult to administer.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page