Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. We all have a responsibility for the welfare of young people. In many respects, the nation has a greater responsibility than we have as individuals. By taking into consideration the welfare of young people, as the amendment proposes, that could save money, for the simple reason that if their welfare is not taken into consideration at that stage, they could end up as criminals. That would cost the Home Office a considerable amount of money through the police and the probation service. In their criminal activities they could end up injuring other people, which will cost both the National Health Service and themselves money. But apart from that, there is a moral duty to look after the welfare of young people and to ensure that we help them on the road forward through life and not down into the pit.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I support the amendment. There is a danger that we are creating in our society a subsection that will increasingly become excluded from society as a whole. It is becoming forgotten and neglected and is almost losing the citizenship that it ought to enjoy.

That becomes more dangerous because as people have grown older it can be said that those of my generation and of other noble Lords have done extraordinarily well. We have gained from pensions, health provision and many other benefits which to a great extent are being paid for by the working generation and those entering the labour force.

I have real fears about creating a generation tension which will give young people the sense that they are increasingly being abandoned by a luckier and more fortunate generation than theirs. Today most of our children do not expect to be better off than we are. Many parents expect their children to be worse off than themselves. There is a declining projection of what will happen to our society.

16 May 1995 : Column 511

It is wicked that people should give the impression that they are abandoning those between the ages of 16 and 18; the age when they have hardly entered adult society. That is a very wicked thing to do. Sometimes we should use powerful moral phrases.

The amendment is moderate, and it is greatly to the credit of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, that he has come here tonight to move it. Obviously, doing so has caused him certain problems and therefore I greatly respect him for that. I hope that Ministers will consider carefully what is the minimal possible safety net for young people to whom we owe at least the obligation of a chance in life before they are written off.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I too support the amendment. I do not believe that the Minister has any idea of the level of hardship that is normal among this group of people. If one lives on a diet of social security briefs, one gets pretty used to hardship; indeed, one must get hardened to it. However, I can think of no where in the whole field of social security where I meet a regular diet of such intense hardship as I do when looking at what is happening to 16 and 17 year-olds.

The amendment is a small start. It also draws attention to a problem that I have raised previously and on which I should like a response. It is the problem of the application of the law of majority to people in this age group. It seems to me that they are treated like children when they would benefit from being treated like adults, and that they are treated like adults when they would benefit from being treated like children. They remind me of the sad case of the man who, when he was asked whether he would like the white or brown meat of chicken, said that he did not know because when he was a child the grown-ups had the white meat and when he was a grown-up the children had the white meat.

It is a sad situation and the question about the law of majority is serious. Will the Government consider asking the Law Commission to look at the question because it has many ramifications and it is rather important?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, posed an interesting question on which I shall reflect. We consider that 16 and 17 year-olds are different from other people who are out of a job. That is why we have set up a special system to try to deal with them. It is based on their need to train and the fact that they should not be allowed to become dependent on benefit and should go into training or, failing that, employment; that is, the declining proportion who do not stay on at school and go on to other forms of education.

I outlined some of the safeguards in my response to the previous amendment. There are other safeguards which we have mentioned at various stages during the passage of this Bill through your Lordships' House. Those are safeguards put in place prior to the judgment as to whether the young person has declined or left training places without good cause. First, the careers service decides whether or not a training place is suitable for a young person. With JSA we are

16 May 1995 : Column 512

introducing a system of internal review which would take place before a direction is revoked on the grounds that a young person has refused a suitable training place. The young person will be given an opportunity to request a re-examination of his case by the Secretary of State before a direction is revoked.

If the young person is in a training place and is not happy with his training, he can take a number of courses of action. He can raise the matter with his training provider, his TEC or the careers service. Again, the facts of the case will be looked into carefully and, if appropriate, he may be found another place.

But if the young person does leave a training place early and feels that he had good cause for doing so, he will be able to put his side of the case to the Employment Service. The circumstances of the case will be re-examined, and, where good cause is established, a certificate will be issued by the Secretary of State and a copy given to the young person. If he reapplies for severe hardship under JSA, the certificate will entitle him to receive the full amount.

Therefore, we have safeguards to try to protect young people who either do not accept training for whatever reason or who leave it without reason to make sure that we are not being unfair to them when it is decided, if it is decided, to sanction them for not accepting or for leaving training.

I hope that those safeguards show that we are mindful of the special position of these young people. I have explained before that I am sure that no young person should unwittingly fall foul of the system. It will be explained to him and he should be aware of what will happen if he gives up or refuses training.

The welfare of young people is the particular concern of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. Not all 16 and 17 year-olds will have to prove severe hardship in order to receive benefit. Perhaps I may give a few examples. Disabled young people and lone parents will be able to claim income support without having to be available for work. Others, such as 16 and 17 year-old couples with children and those leaving local authority care—a particular group which I know is of concern to some of your Lordships—will be able to claim JSA without having to prove severe hardship for different periods depending on their circumstances.

When we are looking at severe hardship, the welfare needs of the young person are taken into account in the decision to award a severe hardship direction. The criteria include vulnerability, health, including pregnancy, as I mentioned earlier, and homelessness or the threat of homelessness.

I do not believe that there is any need for young people to fall foul of the system. Young people who accept training receive an allowance as a wage. If they refuse or leave training places without good cause, then we must look carefully at what we do.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, made much of the fact that we should all give consideration to our teenage children. Indeed, we all do. My experience is that one occasionally needs a sanction and I believe that the same is true in this regard. Dare I say to your Lordships that when we are talking about youngsters who are being

16 May 1995 : Column 513

difficult and who seem to refuse training places or attend one for a week or two and then decide that they are no longer interested, those youngsters above all need some kind of sanction in order to encourage them to take the help which will mean that they avoid the problems which the noble Lord fears they will face.

We must balance the way we deal with those young people. I believe that the balance is about right and I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton: My Lords, I find the Minister's response most unsatisfactory. Indeed, I was very sorry to hear the noble Lord say what he said; namely, that young people need a sanction. Of course, that is true sometimes. But that is not the point. Young people who are destitute do not need a sanction; they need a helping hand. In fact, they need, as set out in the amendment, the assurance that the employment officer will—and this is not very much to ask—have regard,

    "to the welfare of the young person concerned".

That is not asking a great deal. I have been given a good deal of detail in the reply to my amendment, but, as King Lear said to his ungrateful daughter and son-in-law, the Duke of Cornwall, I would say,

    "O reason not the need!".

There is a need, but it has not been recognised by the Minister. Indeed, there is a very severe need. If it were not so late at night, I would give the Minister many examples of the need of young people who are destitute which have been supplied to me by various organisations, not least the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. Quite a number of those children are offenders in one way or another. The Minister will perhaps say that that is their own fault and that, if they have been offending, then they need at least a cuff over the ear or something of that nature. However, what they really need is regard to be had for their welfare.

I cannot for the life of me see why the Minister cannot agree to the incorporation of those innocuous words, which will cost no money, into the Bill. Surely that should appeal to him. I wonder whether the Minister will just reconsider his reply in the light of what I have said and, if he cannot accept the amendment straight away, say that he will at least consider it in time for Third Reading. Will the Minister be good enough to respond to my appeal?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page