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Baroness Seear: My Lords, as President of the Carers National Association, I declare an interest. I strongly support what has been said and I hope that the amendment will be accepted. It would be highly desirable if more than 48 hours were allowed; it costs nothing to give a longer period of time in which to make arrangements.

It is highly desirable that carers should return to the labour market. Many of them will be out of the labour market for so long that returning will be very difficult. They will become a problem to themselves and to society as a whole. Therefore, anything that eases their way back into the labour market is an advantage. The proposal will cost the state nothing and carers will have more time to make difficult adjustments.

The people for whom they are caring are extremely difficult to satisfy. They make a great fuss about having anyone other than their daughter or whoever it may be caring for them. If the arrangements are not satisfactory, the carer will be out of the job in no time because he or she will not be able to put up with the rows at home. The proposal does not create a precedent and the Government could go to at least 48 hours, preferably more. That would help in a number of ways.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, grouped with this amendment is Amendment No. 23A, which stands in my name. I do not know which is the better of the two amendments. Perhaps an amendment should be made to this part of the Bill; perhaps an amendment should be made to Clause 6, where my amendment is placed

Anyone who has any experience of trying to arrange care knows that it can take a great deal longer than 48 hours to obtain satisfactory care. In this instance, I declare an interest because the association for which I work provides carers for a number of disabled people living independently in their own homes. My wife is also involved in providing care for various people.

I do not know whether your Lordships have any experience of trying to get hold of social workers on Friday afternoons. It is probably easier to get blood out of a stone, because Friday afternoons are for case work conferences. It is terribly difficult to get through to social services to speak to anyone responsible. In fact, if a new case crops up which gets through to them, it is normally passed on to a charitable organisation such as SSAFA in the hope that it will do the work that afternoon and over the weekend.

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In addition, some carers have very complicated arrangements which involve a number of people. Those arrangements all need to be unravelled before the carers can go to work and suitable arrangements put into place. As other noble Lords have said, in particular in relation to an older person, it is extremely important that the person being cared for at the very least accepts, but preferably gets on with, those who are caring for him. We all become more difficult to please as we get older. I admit that. My family will tell you that it is increasingly difficult, not just year by year but week by week.

As I said, discussions with other carers may take longer than 24 hours. A number of carers are also caring for more than one person. According to the General Household Survey in 1990, one-fifth of carers are caring for at least two people. That means that the process must be gone through not once but twice.

I have an example, with which I shall not bore the House, of one carer who looks after people in two different parts of London and is therefore liaising with two different sets of social services departments. London is quite small compared with many other parts of the country. Time and travel are also factors to be taken into account; so is being able to contact the relevant person when necessary and not being told that he is out on a case and will not be back until the following day or that there is a stand-in operating for him who knows absolutely nothing about the case being dealt with.

In practical rather than legal terms, 48 hours is the very least that is required. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give some sort of sensible and satisfactory answer to this amendment.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, an effective availability condition is vital for any unemployment benefit. Jobseekers must be available to take up work and, in order to ensure that they are open to as many job opportunities as possible, they should normally be available to take up employment immediately.

We recognise, however, that it would be unreasonable to expect people with caring responsibilities to meet the same availability arrangements as other jobseekers. That is why in JSA we shall be introducing for the first time a specific easement of the availability rule to allow general restrictions on the period that carers should have to be available during the week. They will be able to limit the number of hours that they are available, below the minimum of 40 hours to be applied to other jobseekers, in line with their caring responsibilities. That is significant recognition of the importance which we attach to caring responsibilities in society.

It may also help if I draw attention to the way the new rules will fit together to the advantage of those with caring responsibilities. In practice, many carers will be able to arrange the terms of their restrictions on availability so that they will not be required to be available on several days in the week. That will not affect their entitlement to JSA. Since no carers will be expected to be ready to take up work on a day on which they had agreed that they would not be available, the practical effect of those new flexibilities will be that in many instances carers will be given time to respond to offers of work.

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Those are substantial easements from the general availability rule to meet the needs of carers. However, I have reflected carefully on the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and my noble friend Lord Swinfen. Both recognise that people with caring responsibilities who wish to participate in the labour market will, as now, need to plan in advance the best way of rearranging their caring responsibilities to fit in with any future employment that they may be offered. Both recognise, however, that carers require no less time than voluntary workers to put their plans into place and take up work or attend an interview.

I have listened carefully to what the noble Baroness and my noble friend have said. I am pleased to be able to make a commitment that carers should, like volunteers, have a full 48 hours' notice. Those are details to be covered in regulations under Clause 6, as we have already made clear. If the noble Baroness and my noble friend will agree to withdraw their amendments, we will undertake to bring forward the appropriate regulations to give effect to what their amendments seek to achieve.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply with more than usual sincerity. I also thank those noble Lords who took part in the debate. It is clear that the Minister has considered this matter since Committee, but if he had not done so I am sure that the quality of contributions which we have heard this evening from all sides of the House, from noble Lords who spoke with far greater expertise than I have of the practical problems of caring, would have persuaded him. However, I am grateful and this will be warmly welcomed by the carers' associations. I obviously do not need to press the amendment and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 23, at end insert:
("( ) A jobseeker's allowance shall not be suspended, under section 18 of this Act, for a period exceeding six weeks").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this deals with disentitlement. It provides that total disentitlement should not continue beyond six weeks.

Like many other amendments that we have discussed today, it is extremely modest and should cause no great problems. Before we attempt any consideration of disentitlement, we should know what happens to those who are disentitled to benefit. As far as I know, the Government have made no serious attempt to find out the answer to that question. We are always told that the Department of Social Security does not make policy on anecdotal evidence, although since the habitual residence regulations I am not quite sure whether that is still the case. But here, as far as I can see, the department has no evidence at all, not even anecdotal evidence.

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If we are to assess whether disentitlement is good and to what extent or for how long it is good, before extending it, as this Bill does, we need to have a faint idea of what is the effect. Surely that is not an over-ambitious request.

There are some obvious hypotheses which can be formed, some of them supported by a MORI report on severe hardship payments for 16 and 17 year-olds, which I believe is the only serious research on the effect of disentitlement that we have. This evening we have heard about the risks of prostitution. They are real. There is a 17th century case of an Oxford head of house who died, having regrettably been swindled by the trustee of his pension fund. According to Anthony Wood:

    "Whether the females lived honestly, 'tis not for me to dispute it".

Many times I have asked the Department of Social Security to carry out some serious research into the problems of debt among those on benefit. They can be serious and a real obstacle to returning to employment.

As regards problems of health, there has been a recent Crisis report on the spread of TB among the homeless. The figures are quite alarming. In 1983, the average rate of TB among the population in general in south-east London was 80 per 100,000. In hostels and day-care centres in London in 1994, it was 2,000 per 100,000. That is not just a local London result. In Glasgow hostels, again among the homeless, the rate was 1,456 per 100,000. There is similar evidence from New York.

Of course, TB is an extremely expensive illness. The Minister may well find that if he goes in for increasing disentitlement in the way that this Bill does, he will spend more money than he saves.

The Minister has argued throughout, and most notably on the second amendment today, for moving away from a concept of entitlement towards a very much more strictly conditional attitude to benefit. Nobody wishes to encourage people on benefit to do nothing, to take advantage, and so on. Provided that it is compatible with subsistence, a benefit penalty is perfectly defensible. But I believe that the Minister introduces total disentitlement at his own peril. When he goes home this evening, I hope that I do not have to mean those words literally. I beg to move.

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