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Lord Carter: There is a point as regards this amendment which we can discuss. It would be helpful if the Minister can clarify this when he replies. I think I am correct in saying that the current position is that a mother with a working partner, or no partner, is given 24 hours' notice in which to take up a job offer, and therefore would have to have the childcare lined up in preparation for being offered a job, and she could well be asked about this by the Employment Service adviser. This would be particularly unsatisfactory with regard to a child under two years of age, as the mother or the responsible parent may not have a trusted child minder or a relative with whom to leave such a young child at 24 hours' notice. It would be helpful if the Minister could reply to that point.

Lord Inglewood: Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is prominent in this field as vice chairman of the all-parliamentary group on parenting, and has been very much involved in establishing the Parenting Forum for parenting, education and support, that we recognise the role people with caring responsibilities can play in the labour market and that we have taken this into account in drawing up the JSA proposals. I cannot stress strongly enough, however, that JSA is for jobseekers and it is important that all unemployed people claiming JSA can fulfil the labour market conditions. This is an underlying principle of any unemployment benefit. In order to receive JSA, jobseekers will have to be able and willing to participate in the labour market.

In order to receive JSA, claimants will have to be available for and actively seeking employment. For the first time we are introducing an easement of the availability rule for jobseekers with caring responsibilities. We will set out in regulations that people with caring responsibilities will be able to restrict the hours of their availability because of these responsibilities. Carers will also, as will all jobseekers, be able to place restrictions on their availability, in terms of the location or type of work, provided that they still retain reasonable prospects of securing employment. I think that goes a long way to answering the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter.

27 Apr 1995 : Column 1134

It is essential that jobseekers should actively look for employment while they are in receipt of JSA. We recognise that all jobseekers are individuals and should be treated as such. Each individual will have different circumstances and it is important to reflect in legislation that different steps may be appropriate and reasonable in different situations. That applies to carers as it does to others.

Perhaps I may reassure noble Lords about our intention that, as now, a determination as to whether someone has met the actively seeking employment condition must be taken with regard to all the circumstances of the case, including caring responsibilities. One has to be actively seeking work, but in a way which may be different from the general case because of the caring responsibilities.

I should like to reassure the Committee that we value very highly the contribution made by parents who choose to devote their time to raising their children. We encourage flexible working patterns that enable parents to raise their children and participate in the labour market.

There is a wide range of benefits available for parents with caring responsibilities for very young children, including statutory maternity pay, child benefit and income support for lone parents. Let me make it clear that, where a lone parent claims income support, he or she will not be required to be available for or actively seeking work. Where a couple have children and one or both of the partners works, family credit is available for families with earnings below a certain level. These benefits recognise that families with children face additional costs compared with other families.

I hope that that reassures the noble Lord and that he will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carter: Before the noble Lord decides what to do with the amendment, can the Minister answer directly the question that I put to him? Is it the case that a mother with a working partner or no partner has to have a child minder lined up so that if she is offered a job she can take it up at 24 hours' notice?

Lord Inglewood: Yes, it is.

Lord Northbourne: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. I wonder whether the noble Lord has ever tried looking after a one year-old child alone. Does he suggest that that is not a job?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: That is hypothetical.

Lord Inglewood: I believe that we can say with confidence that it is not; after all, we are all here. This is a matter of the definition of "actively seeking work" and being "available for work" which we went into at some length on a previous occasion. I do not say that because the noble Lord was not present.

Lord Northbourne: In that case, I think the noble Lord is saying that one has to be seeking paid work. Therefore, the effect of the scheme will be that the parent will have to seek paid work away from the home

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and then somebody else will seek the job of being the carer. That seems to me to be remarkably daft and certainly not in the best interests of the child.

Lord Inglewood: The key point about the JSA is that the first priority of the jobseeker is to get a job. JSA is for jobseekers. It is important that all those who claim JSA, including those with care responsibilities, are available for and actively seeking employment. For those who do not want to seek employment there is the income support system, which stands in parallel. That is the important distinction here. This Bill relates to people who want to seek work. In the "available for work" and "actively seeking work" conditions, special provisions are being introduced for carers.

Lord Northbourne: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I suggest that looking after a one year-old child is employment. However, I should like to consider the legislation and possibly to bring the matter back at the next stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 [Supplementary Provisions]:

Lord Swinfen had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 165:

Page 32, line 40, at end insert:
("( ) for occupational or personal pensions to be disregarded, in the case of a disabled person.").

The noble Lord said: As it is late, I shall leave this matter until the next stage.

[Amendment No. 165 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 166 and 167 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 167A:

Page 33, line 5, at end insert:

("Claims yet to be determined and suspended payments

.—(1) In such circumstances as may be prescribed, a claimant may be treated as being entitled to an income-based jobseeker's allowance before his claim for a jobseeker's allowance has been determined.
(2) In such circumstances as may be prescribed, an income-based jobseeker's allowance shall be payable to a claimant even though payment to him of a jobseeker's allowance has been suspended by virtue of regulations under section 5(1) (n) of the Administration Act.
(3) A jobseeker's allowance shall only be payable by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) or (2) if the claimant has complied with such requirements as to the provision of information as may be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph.
(4) Regulations may make provision for a jobseeker's allowance payable by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) or (2) to be—
(a) payable at a prescribed rate;
(b) payable for a prescribed period;
(c) treated as being a contribution-based jobseeker's allowance for the purposes of section 5 of this Act.
(5) Regulations may make provision—
(a) for the recovery, by prescribed means and in prescribed circumstances, of the whole or part of any amount paid by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) or (2);
(b) for the whole or part of any amount paid by virtue of sub-paragraph (1) to be treated, if an award is made on the claim referred to there, as having been paid on account of the jobseeker's allowance awarded;

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(c) for the whole or part of any amount paid by virtue of sub-paragraph (2) to be treated, if the suspension referred to there is lifted, as having been paid on account of the suspended allowance.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 167A makes good a deficiency in the Bill. The Bill as it currently stands allows hardship payments to be made only once a decision has actually been made on whether the claimant meets the labour market conditions. As we have discussed on a number of occasions, we wish to extend protection to vulnerable groups during the decision-making process by making hardship payments available to them pending a decision on their entitlement, and to all claimants if the decision-making process lasts more than two weeks.

The amendment allows for reduced-rate income-based JSA to be paid to claimants during all or part of the adjudication process. At the beginning of the claim that will be where the adjudication officer is deciding on whether the claimant is available for work or actively seeking work, or on the terms of a jobseeker's agreement.

If the claim is already running, subparagraph (2) allows for payments to be made if a question arises during a claim over the claimant's availability for work, or on whether he is actively seeking work and benefit has been suspended.

The amendment fulfils our commitment to make provision for hardship payments during the decision-making process. I recognise that our intentions for the use of the regulation-making powers do not go so far as some noble Lords would like, but I hope that they will nevertheless support the amendment which will be used to regulate for payments to all claimants in vulnerable groups throughout the period of adjudication, and to other claimants after the initial two weeks. I beg to move.

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