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Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may ask a question on this issue. Will it also be permissible for someone with caring responsibilities to restrict the place at which they can work, which can be crucial for someone in that situation?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Just a few sentences ago I said that I had made it clear in Committee that restrictions on the nature, the hours, rate of remuneration, locality or other conditions of employment will be
Subsection (4) is an important provision. Current legislation at Section 137(2) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act enables regulations to make provision as to the circumstances in which a person is or is not to be treated as available for employment. Regulations under that provision deal with a wide range of very specific instances where it is appropriate for a claimant to be entitled or not entitled, notwithstanding the general rules for availability. Those provisions have been extensively used for a long time. For instance, they provide that people undertaking emergency duties such as crewing a lifeboat or as a part-time fireman, people attending court, taking part in training courses or people who are temporarily looking after a sick child can be treated as available for work. The list is extensive and deals with a range of specific issues. We intend to follow broadly the same approach in JSA.
Regulations to treat people as available will also make special provision for people undertaking part-time study and those undertaking voluntary work for no pay. Jobseekers pursuing part-time study in higher education or fewer than 16 hours of guided learning in further education will not be regarded as unavailable simply on account of their study if they are prepared to take a jobsubject, of course, to the normal safeguards of "good cause". Volunteers similarly will be treated as available provided that they are prepared and can make arrangements to leave their voluntary work within 48 hours if a job offer is made to them. I believe that not all local office staff currently understand that voluntary work should not of itself prevent a person from being available. With the new regulations for JSA we will be making sure that the benefits of voluntary workso clearly expressed by many noble Lordsare recognised properly.
The provision to treat people as not available for employment will also apply to certain specific groups. People such as full-time students, or women who are receiving statutory maternity pay within the maternity pay period, should not be entitled to JSA even though they can make themselves available for work. Those groups of people are adequately covered elsewhere by government provision.
Subsection (5) makes explicit provision, as part of the conditions for availability, for a permitted period during which a person may be treated as available if he is only prepared to be available for employment in his usual occupation and at his former rate of pay. The Bill currently makes provision for such a period to be specified in the jobseeker's agreement. That might appear to imply that the jobseeker's agreement, by introducing the notion of the permitted period, itself gives rise (rather
Before I leave the question of availability I should also remind your Lordships about provisions relating to the circumstances where a person may or may not refuse offers of employment. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, during our earlier debate in Committee suggested that an essential point about availability was that it was a test of intention and that any attempt to set out in legislation one outward and visible sign which shall be taken for proof of intention is very difficult indeed. I agree but only up to a point, because commissioners have made it clear time and time again that there are tests which can and should be applied about intention. But I do agree that in some circumstances a clearer test of whether a claimant is prepared to accept an offer of employment is to offer him a vacancy. In those circumstances we are dealing with specific details and can consider specific reasons why it is not reasonable that a person should or should not be expected to accept the offer of employment.
Under Clause 16 we will be carrying forward the current approach of specifying the circumstances which will constitute good cause for refusing an offer of employment. Those include any condition or personal circumstances where accepting the offer would subject him to excessive physical or mental stress, religious or conscientious objection, caring responsibilities, excessive travelling time and excessive in-work expenses. We also propose to bring forward an amendment to put on the face of the Bill, as current legislation provides, an exemption from sanction where a person refuses a vacancy which has arisen as a result of a trade dispute.
I turn now to the new Clause 6A, which is to be wholly devoted to the active seeking condition. Regulations for unemployment benefit and income support currently provide for two aspects of the steps to be considered in the test of whether a person is actively seeking work. We are proposing to reflect both those aspects in the definition on the face of the Bill. The steps must be those which an individual can reasonably be expected to have to take. This is important because it recognises that jobseekers are individuals: a jobseeker with disabilities will not be expected to take the same steps as someone without those disabilities; a person looking for work in a skilled occupation will go about it in a different way from a person looking for a labouring job. Secondly, the steps must be those which give the jobseeker the best prospects of securing employment; thus the test is not a straightjacket but is sensitive to what is appropriate to help the individual secure a job.
Subsection (2) enables regulations to provide for this test in more detail. We intend that regulations under subsection (2) (a) should specify that, as now, the taking of one step on a single occasion during a week will not suffice unless that is all that it is reasonable for the individual to do in that week. Regulations will also provide for a non-exhaustive list of the steps which a person might be expected to take. As now, this list will include applying for jobs directly or in writing or registering with an employment agency. But for the first time it will also include steps which a person may take to improve his employability. Such steps might include producing a CV, researching into alternative occupations or, in some circumstances, attending short job-preparation courses.
Regulations under subsection (2) (b) will make it clear that all the circumstances of the case should be taken into account in determining what steps are reasonable in the case of the individual. As subsection (2) (b) makes clear, such considerations should include the person's skills, qualifications, his abilities and any mental or physical limitations. I recognise that some Members of this House have been concerned that, for instance, people with disabilities will be required to seek work in a way which they simply find impossible because of their disability. I hope that I have made it clear that this will not be the case.
Subsection (3) provides for the circumstances which we have already extensively discussed in Committee; namely, that where a person has taken steps designed to negate the value of his jobsearchperhaps by presenting himself to employers in a way guaranteed to dissuade them from offering him a jobthose steps should not be regarded as active jobsearch.
Subsection (4) enables regulations to provide for circumstances where a person is to be treated as actively seeking work. This is a counterpart to the provision under availability since in many of the circumstances where a person is to be treated as available he should be treated as actively seeking also if he is to receive benefit. Additional examples of the circumstances where a person might be treated as actively seeking are where he is taking part on an Employment Service course and will not be required to take extra steps to apply for jobs.
I would, however, draw your Lordships' attention to a significant difference from the provisions as currently set out in the Bill. My noble friend Lord Renton and others had some fun, as I could reasonably describe it, in criticising the provision currently at Clause 6(2) (d) of the Bill which provides for circumstances where a person who is actively seeking may be treated as not actively seeking. I understand that concern and it will, I suspect, do nothing to meet that concern if I were to point out that current legislation already provides for just that power in Section 137 of the Supplementary Benefits Act. The Government have always made it clear that we proposed to make one and one use only of that power; namely, to provide that to meet the condition of actively seeking employment 16-17 year-olds should also seek training. On reflection I now regard it as unsatisfactory that the Bill should propose such a wide-ranging power to treat someone as not actively seeking employment. We have therefore dropped this provision and have made specific
Subsection (5) will enable regulations to provide for a person to satisfy the actively seeking test if he is seeking work only in his usual occupation during his permitted period. Subsection (8) will enable regulations to specify, for the first time, that where the person has previously been self-employed in that occupation he will, during his permitted period, be able to limit his jobsearch to self-employment.
I now turn to new Clause 6B, which we discussed earlier and on which there was a division of opinion. It carries forward the arrangements previously in Clause 6(4) to (6) concerned with claimants' attendance and the supplying of information and evidence. Any unemployed person will be familiar with the long-standing arrangements for attending regularly to sign on for benefit and to sign a declaration that he is available for work and actively seeking work and that his circumstances have not changed. Although as regards JSA, because it is an open-ended benefit, claimants will not be required to make a claim on each occasion, we still intend that they should attend their Jobcentre regularly in order to show that they are available and actively seeking work. That is a normal procedure and every claimant knows that if he does not sign on he will not receive his benefit.
One of the key purposes of JSA is to ensure that only those who are available and actively seeking employment receive the allowance. In order to ensure that jobseekers meet those conditions, it is essential to review the activities which they are undertaking to find work. The regular contact is indeed not only to monitor their jobsearch but also to identify whether they need advice or help, which might be attendance on an unemployment programme or on a training course. Each new claimant is given written notification of the day, time and place that he should attend to sign. From then on it is his responsibility to attend in accordance with the notice. Of course, we recognise that from time to time matters can arise which mean that claimants cannot attend at the right time. Benefit entitlement will not cease if they can show good cause for their failure. We are making specific provisions to enable matters to be set out which are or are not taken into account for the consideration of good cause.
In Committee we discussed a number of provisions relating to Clause 6 and to other parts of the Billbut in particular to Clause 6. As I said earlier, when responding to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee about the affirmative rather than the negative procedure being used, we have done so largely in response to the well-argued case of the committee. This is the other part of that equation, so to speak, and we have addressed the problem of availability for work and actively seeking work. We have attempted to put a definition on the face of the Bill as well as retaining the powers to prescribe the greater detail which will be required to run the system in regulations.
I hope that your Lordships consider that we have responded positively to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee in this regard, as clearly was the case in respect of another regard. I commend the new clauses to the House. I beg to move.