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Lord McCarthy: My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that it cannot be exploitation and that it cannot be unreasonable if it is just a matter of money? Is the noble Lord saying that if, after six months, the jobseeker is sent somewhere, offered a job or presented with an opportunity by an employment officer and the only thing wrong with the job is not that it is illegal, but that it offers starvation wages that are way below the level of the jobseeker's allowance, that is perfectly reasonable and is not exploitation?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I said earlier that I was not going to enter into a hypothetical Dutch auction because we had plenty of opportunities for that in Committee. I go back to the point that I made: very large numbers of people are dealt with by the Employment Service and we cannot find an example to back up the extreme hypothetical instances quoted by the Benches opposite.
Lord McCarthy: My Lords, but that is because the noble Lord will not accept, and would not allow an employment officer to say, that an offer was unreasonable if it involved starvation wages. He does not recognise that as exploitation. That is why he cannot find a case. He prevents any case.
It is in the interests of jobseekers to show maximum availability to get back to work, and not to restrict their jobsearch. The main cause of poverty, as study after study has shown, is not low wages but the lack of a joband the more jobs, the more income tax. It is gratifying to note that seasonally adjusted unemployment fell in April to 2.328 million, a decrease of 18,900 on the month, which is the 20th consecutive monthly fall.
We do not believe that that is the right way to approach this. We believe that the effect of the amendments might be to close off opportunities for jobseekers of getting back into work. That is why I cannot accept them.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the possible extent of such a debate is limitless. However, we do not believe that the right way to mitigate the open-ended commitment to helping people is by going down the route which the noble Earl advocates.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, particularly those on the Liberal Benches. The Minister made two points. First, he challenged us by saying that the amendment is defective because it is unclear. The Minister knows perfectly well what we are talking aboutperhaps I should say that he would have known perfectly well if he had been listening to the speeches. We were saying that nobody should be required to accept a job which pays less than the jobseeker's allowance which, as I spelt out, is £37 per week for a single person under 25; £46.80 per week for a single person over 25, and £73 for a couple. I had hoped that I had made that abundantly clear. I am sorry that the noble Lord felt obliged to say that it was not clear.
We dealt with the question of mortgage payments last night. That point is covered by the changes in the mortgage procedure. We are talking about the level of JSA as a benefit by comparison with the pay offered in a Jobcentre. I had hoped that I had made that perfectly clear. I do not think that the noble Lord was fair to suggest that the amendment, as moved, was unclear.
I had hoped that we had made it clear that we were distinguishing between couples without children and couples with children. We said that the consequences of failing to pass the amendment would be equally devastating, but in different ways. Why? Because a couple without children or a single person will not be entitled to an in-work top-up benefit. Therefore, they are required to accept a job which pays less than income support or JSA. That is what they are stuck with. They will be earning an income that is below the poverty line. We have said that that is an exploitative wage by any definition. We are talking about jobs that pay less than the noble Lord, myself or anybody else in the Chamber accepts as the minimum poverty level. That is why income support is set at the level that it isbecause it is the minimum poverty level; yet those without children are being asked to work for less than that. We are saying that that is unacceptable because it is exploitative.
Although those with children get family credit to top up wages, and that overcomes their immediate poverty problem, it does so at the expense of creating a social security problem for the rest of us. What happens? We, as taxpayers, then top up that poverty exploitative wage to above the poverty line because they have children. What does that mean? It means that the employer can cut wages to wherever he will, because he knows that he can export his wages bill onto us as taxpayers.
Without children, a couple are below the poverty line; with children they are above the poverty line, courtesy of the taxpayer subsidising the employer. I had hoped that we had made it clear that either of those alternatives is unacceptable. It is unacceptable if a couple have no children because they are semi-destitute; it is unacceptable if they have children, because we, as taxpayers, are subsidising the wage bill which should be paid in the wage packet.
The Minister's third argument was that we had no evidence of that happening. I have to tell the Ministerwe said this in Committeethat a recent survey of Jobcentres in Manchester showed that nearly one-third of the jobs on offer were paying less than JSA/income support rates. They are no longer protected by wages councils.
When the Minister therefore says that there is no point in someone holding out for a rate of pay which is not realistically obtainableI quote his wordswhat is he saying? A rate of pay that is no longer realistically obtainable? If all the employer is willing to offer is £2 a week are jobseekers supposed to accept that? Are they expected to accept £1 a week, £1.50, or 50p a week? Is it reasonable for a couple without children to work for 30 hours a week at 50p an hour and earn £15 a week and have no in-work benefit? Is that what the Minister is saying? It is reasonable to work for £15 a week30 hours a week at 50p an hour? That is the implication of the Minister's refusal to accept the amendment.
The moment one refuses to put in a floor below which wages cannot fall, some employersthe most exploitativewill take advantage of that to pay below it, because they know that people in the labour market
I ask your Lordships to support us tonight. While we want as indeed we do wantpeople to enter the labour market, we are equally concerned about the cost of the social security bill. How will we stop the social security bill for family credit, rising and rising, and rising? We can only stop that happpening by ensuring that employers cannot pitch wages where they will, knowing that we will prop them up. A vote for the amendment is a vote not just to help people back to work but to cap the social security bill, rather than offer employers an open invitation to pay what they will, knowing that you, I, us, will take the strain. I should like to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.