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Lord Inglewood: We have made it very clear during the debates in another place that, where there is a doubt about whether a claimant satisfies the conditions of availability and actively seeking, benefit should be payable at a reduced rate in certain circumstances pending the adjudication officer's decision. All claimants in one of the prescribed vulnerable groupsthose with children and caring responsibilities, the sick, the disabled and those whose partners are sick, disabled or pregnantwill be entitled to make a claim for JSA on grounds of hardship pending the decision of an adjudication officer on the jobseeking conditions. All claimants will have such access if the decision takes longer than two weeks to be made. In all cases it will of course be for the claimants to demonstrate that they would face hardship were they not to receive payments on that basis.
We believe that those arrangements are reasonable. We should remember that a jobseeker's agreement has been entered into by people so they know what is the general position. If, instead, all jobseekers had access to a reduced rate of benefit immediately, that would reduce incentives to meet the availability and active seeking conditions for benefit.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, asked whether IB leavers would be a vulnerable group and able to obtain hardship payments throughout the whole time they are waiting for an adjudication decision. Where a person leaving invalidity benefit falls into one of the vulnerable groups because he has children, qualifies for a disability premium or is sick, he will be able to claim hardship payments from the outset. Otherwise, we propose that he should be treated like other childless claimants who are capable of work. However, my noble friend has given an assurance to the Committee that we shall consider this issue further, and we shall be doing so.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I thank the Minister for that comment. I was trying to press him on whether the carrying of points which show a degree of disabilityin other words, a partial disabilitywill count someone as vulnerable. We know that if someone
Lord Inglewood: It is clear in the remarks I made that where the person concerned qualifies for a disability premium or is sick he will be able to claim the hardship payment from the outset. But, as I said, we are considering this and we shall look into the matter further.
Although I would urge your Lordships to reject the amendment, I should perhaps make it clear that I do not believe that the provision in Schedule 1(8), which we had intended should be sufficient to enable such hardship payments, is sufficient for our purposes. For that reason we have today tabled an amendment to address that particular problem.
Earl Russell: While the Minister waits for what the Leader of another place once described as "the curious process of osmosis" by which information reaches Ministers in this House, I should like to ask him a few questions. First, why are single people never presumed to be in hardship? Is this a form of family planning? If so, it is one I do not share.
The Minister mentioned the need to demonstrate hardship. Can he tell us exactly what a person has to do to demonstrate hardship? In the world in which I live, if one is disentitled to a means-tested benefit, that in itself demonstrates hardship. What else does a person have to do to demonstrate that he is in hardship?
Thirdly, I was very, very puzzled by the Minister's argument that if one keeps one's benefit until one has gone to the adjudication officer that reduces the incentive to conform to the system. I suppose one could say that the prospect of going through a trial in which an acquittal might possibly be the result rather than being immediately sent to prison reduces the incentive for criminals to keep the law. I very much hope that no government in this country will ever act on such an argument. Indeed, if the Prime Minister were to apply that doctrine of employment to his Ministers, I would
Lord Swinfen: My noble friend said that he had tabled an amendment to deal with this subject. He is the only person in the Committee to have seen the amendment. Is it possible for him to tell us what it is?
Lord Inglewood: Perhaps I may start with the amendment. It provides for hardship payments to be made in a case where benefit has been suspended or where a decision on conditions of entitlement has not yet been taken on a claim.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We know that that is the case for those who are leaving work either on grounds of misconduct or voluntarily. That was the concession made by the Minister in another place, Ann Widdecombe, in Committee. Our concern is with the actively seeking work clauses. Does that apply to actively seeking work as opposed to the other grounds, which are voluntarily leaving work and misconduct?
Lord Inglewood: It is an extremely big amendment. I can willingly provide a copy to the noble Baroness if she wants one and we can discuss it later. I thought that was the easiest way of dealing with it. The amendment is intended to achieve what we thought the part we are excluding was going to achieve.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Can the Minister answer that one question? Does it mean that someone falling foul of the referral to the adjudication officer on "actively seeking work" grounds will remain eligible for hardship payments throughout or does it apply just to voluntary misconduct? If so, why are the Government still perpetuating a distinction between voluntarily leaving work and misconduct on the one hand and ASW rules on the other, which are the basis of our concern? We know why the Government are extending the provision for voluntarily leaving work because it takes so long to come to appeal, but, as we have some of the same problems as regards "actively seeking work" judgments, the same rules should apply.
Lord McCarthy: We are operating like a parish council. This House has machinery which can produce this amendment. Why cannot the noble Lord go into the Library and get 15 or 25 copies for everyone? Why are we mucking about like this?
Lord Inglewood: They are that a person has children, qualifies for a disability premium or is sick, and also the existing provisions in that regard which are currently applicable. The amendment is intended to enable the process to take place, not to change the scope of the definitions.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: What the amendment does is merely to say that claimants are entitled to an income-based jobseeker's allowance if they fit the existing categories of vulnerability, and, presumably, meet the hardship rule. The Minister has referred only to vulnerability. Does he require that they meet the hardship rule as well under the amendment? There are two hurdles obviously. Are we asking people to clear both?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Therefore, we have not advanced any further. We are saying that those who are not vulnerable, although they may be in hardship, after two weeks may receive a hardship payment but that those who are not vulnerable and not in hardship will receive nothing, even though their case has not yet been determined. That remains the same.
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