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Page 5, line 32, at end insert:
("( ) Regulations shall prescribe that a person who has responsibility for caring for a child under the age of 3 years shall not be required to be available to take up any employed earner's employment at less than 7 days' notice.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee I tabled an amendment directed towards the position of young single mothers. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, convinced me that I was wrong in regard to mothers who did not wish to take up employment in that they would be covered by income support. I have satisfied myself that the amount of income support is equal to the amount of the jobseeker's allowance.

Amendment No. 26 is a modest amendment and is directed towards the position of a single mother with a young child who wishes to go out to work. Some mothers will wish to go to work but others will not. As drafted, the Bill requires a mother or father who is the single carer of a young child to be available within 24 hours to take up work. I suggest that we should not legislate against the best interests of the child. There is no doubt that poor quality childcare and childminding are very much against the best interests of the child and can be damaging. A great deal of research shows that. The arrangement of good quality childcare takes time, even if granny is to look after the child. Granny may have a part-time job and may need time to make other arrangements and so forth.

I suggest that seven days is not an unreasonable period to provide. I accept that one cannot tell a young parent whether he or she should go out to work or stay at home and look after the child. I accept that one cannot tell parents what to do about childcare. However, we must not put in their way obstacles which make it more

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difficult to obtain proper childcare and which militate against it. That is the purpose of the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some comfort and tell me that if he cannot accept the amendment the issue will be covered in regulations or guidance. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I support the amendment and thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for tabling it again. It is sensible and proposes a small measure which shows a degree of compassion. It provides that the potential employee,

    "shall not be required to be available to take up any employed earner's employment at less than 7 days' notice".

It does not provide that potential employees cannot be required to attend an interview; therefore, during that period they could be arranging employment. It provides a period of seven days within which it is hoped arrangements can be made for the child, who is an important factor.

It is not a case of judging whether it is better for a child up to the age of three to have the parent staying at home. It does not state whether the parent should go out to work or not. It does not make a moral judgment. Many parents go out to work because they have to. Many parents seek to go out to work because they do not wish to be dependent on the welfare state; they wish independently to provide for their children. However, if a job is available and they are able to obtain it, it is right that they should be given a period within which to make arrangements for their children. Seven days is a reasonable period.

We would all agree that a child is not a parcel that one can pick up today and park tomorrow, even if one can find good childcare facilities which are not as prolific in the UK as they should be. The child must be made aware that he or she is to be looked after by someone else. A sensible parent may wish to take the child to the carer before he or she goes to work on the first day. The parent may wish to introduce the child to the carer and make sure that the child is happy and contented in the situation.

We are dealing only with children up to the age of three. They are toddlers who perhaps have not been out of the care of the person who has looked after and had responsibility for them. This is a small but important measure. I hope that the Minister is able to support it.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, concessions that have been won by Members on all sides who are critical of the Bill have tended to be bite-sized. The amendment represents another bite-sized concession and would reflect a sense of humanity on the part of the Government because it recognises the real world.

I speak as someone who for many years represented a constituency in another place. There, many children, both parents being out to work, found themselves alone in the house in the evening. They were latchkey kids. They had keys hanging around their necks because no

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one was at home to let them in. Sometimes they played, not only in their own gardens, but up and down the street. They were a danger to drivers and to themselves.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, gave an example of what it is like in the real world trying to cope with young children when one does not have much money, support or a strong supportive family. In new towns, one of which I represented, there is not a nearby generation of grandparents to turn to. Therefore, the parent is locked into a two-generation situation.

This House is supposed to be concerned with family values and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has argued consistently that doing anything which will cause the break-up or challenge the stability of the family is a very unwise path to follow. This relatively modest amendment recognises the acute dilemmas of women with children who are dependent on them. Those women must try to find adequate childcare and that does not mean just a neighbour, the youngster down the road who wants to make a few extra pounds a week, or the teenage girl who has just come out of school and agrees to look after the children for a few hours and who may not realise the dangers of, for example, paraffin stoves. It is an essential safeguard to allow mothers time to find proper childcare for their children.

The Government have seen the point of our arguments as regards volunteers and others with special needs, and that is extremely welcome. I hope that they can look also at this dilemma and respond to it sympathetically.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, perhaps I may begin with a few general words about the jobseeker's system and then focus on the particular amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne.

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 that it would be unreasonable to expect people with caring responsibilities to be available immediately. That is why in JSA, as we have now agreed, carers will be entitled to 48 hours' notice of any job or job interview. That gives carers longer to rearrange their caring responsibilities and be available for employment.

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 may be offered. When an opportunity of work arises, they will have 48 hours' notice to put these plans into place and take up work or attend an interview.

Over and above those special arrangements for notice, the new JSA availability condition will provide further flexibility for jobseekers, and in particular for carers. In JSA, we will 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

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minimum of 40 hours to be applied to other jobseekers, in line with their caring responsibilities. That is an important recognition of the importance that we attach to caring responsibilities in society.

It may help if I draw attention to the way the new rules will fit together to the advantage of those with caring responsibilities.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I had understood that the word "carers" does not refer to parents but to those caring for, for example, the elderly, the disabled and so on. Is the Minister now saying that a parent caring for a child is also now a "carer" and that therefore the 48-hour concession now applies to those parents?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, yes. Perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to finish my explanation. 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 carer will be expected to be ready to take up work on a day on which he had agreed that he would not be available, the practical effect of these new flexibilities will be that in many instances carers will be given more time to respond to offers of work.

There is a balance to be struck between ensuring that carers make themselves available for as many job opportunities as possible and making sure that they have a reasonable time to make other arrangements for their caring responsibilities. I was unable to accept the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, (whose expertise is well-known and has been alluded to) during Committee because, in effect, it excused any person with a child under two years of age from being required to be available at all. The noble Lord has, I accept, moved a great deal to take account of the concerns I expressed but I believe that his present amendment would still, in fact, tip the balance to the detriment of carers' responsibility—and I use that word in its widest sense. I urge your Lordships' House to take account of the considerable new flexibilities for the treatment of carers that we have introduced for JSA which do not exist in UB or IS.

As I understand the position, unmarried mothers would receive the same money whether they are in receipt of income support or the jobseeker's allowance. The important point is that there is nothing to prevent those women availing themselves of the services of the Employment Service to assist in obtaining work if they wish to do so. The amount of money concerned is the same. It is merely a matter of retaining the integrity of the jobseeker's system, which is intended for people available and looking for work compared with people who are receiving income support but who happen to be looking for a job. I believe that that answers the problem to which the noble Lord has referred.

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