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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I have some difficulty with this amendment. First, as I understand it, subsection (1) is automatic in its operation. In other words, one is entitled to an allowance if one is at risk of hardship. Then, under subsection (2), types of
Then one comes to the question of paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d). Surely other sources of benefit within the social benefits system will deal with those. Why therefore should they be saddled onto the jobseeker's entitlement? I do not understand that. Also, when one seeks to serialize and give examples, one tends to exclude. It may be all water under the bridge now, but an amendment was tabled in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, dealing with family consideration hardship. We would have moved that amendment had not a government amendment been put forward.
What happens about family consideration hardship? I have come to the conclusion that, like many of these matters, it merges in the "good cause" test and that the more one seeks to define, in a sense, the more one seeks to exclude. I am a bit foxed as to how the amendment will achieve a constructive purpose. I am not trying to knock the spirit of it. I do not in any sense question the sincerity that moves the amendment. But, with respect, I do not think it will work.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment so well moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. With the indulgence of the House, perhaps I may comment briefly on the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway. In a strict sense he is quite right to say that only paragraph (e) relates to a jobseeker's allowance. But that is because of the change in terminology introduced by the Government in which, if one is unemployed, one is no longer classed as "unemployed" but as a "jobseeker". If instead, throughout our debates, we talked about the "unemployed", then I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, would agree that not just paragraph (e) but also paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) would apply as hardshipthat is, if one is unemployed and therefore has no other income coming from work.
The second point made by the noble Lord was that such people who may be in hardship would be eligible for other benefits and should not be carried by JSA. I wish the noble Lord was right. The amendments that many of us on these Benchesand indeed some on the Conservative Bencheshave tabled are precisely to that effect. But JSA has integrated two benefitsthe old unemployment benefit of which the noble Lord was, in a sense, speaking and also income support. Therefore most groups of people who, in the past, would qualify for income support are no longer eligible for it; it is JSA or nothing. It is the coming together of those two benefits.
The only other benefit available, except in special circumstances like being a lone parent, is incapacity benefit which replaces invalidity benefit. Therefore one receives incapacity benefit if one is so severely disabled or has such a severe medical condition that one is judged to be incapable of work. But, as we discussed in our
A second benefit available is income support. It is only available for a limited number of people such as lone parents. Everybody else within the employable age must turn to JSA. In other words, jobseeker's allowance is carrying a benefit delivery which in my view it should not do. It should be confined to those seeking work. It is being asked to carry payments to all those who are unable to work but nonetheless fail to qualify for incapacity benefit or income support. Our concern is that many people will not, for good cause, qualify for incapacity benefit or for income support; they may fail some of the JSA tests and also fail a test of hardship.
The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, tabled the amendment for three reasons. First, the Bill remains too much of a framework Billand many noble Lords have expressed that anxietywhich contains four pivotal sets of phrases: "available for work"; "actively seeking work"; "vulnerable" and "hardship". As a result of your Lordships' efforts, quite rightly, "available for work" and "actively seeking work"the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, played an important part in thisare now on the face of the Bill. But when there are doubts as to whether one is meeting the conditions so that "actively seeking work" applies, the two important and pivotal words of "vulnerable" and "hardship" are not so defined. Therefore, the amendment that has just been lost and this amendment seek to bring back into the framework of the Bill a pivotal concept on the basis of which people will or will not be entitled to benefit.
The second reason for wanting the definition on the face of the Bill is not just that otherwise it is still too much a framework Bill but that the Government are tightening up eligibility for benefit, they are tightening up the number of referrals that will be made and they are tightening up the making of hardship payments so that more and more will be left to the discretion not only of the Secretary of State but of the employment officer. Because so much will be left otherwise to discretion, we feel it is pivotal that the definition be on the face of the Bill.
The previous amendment was important. It would have safeguarded the position of people for the first fortnight of benefit. But with this amendment we are trying to safeguard the position of people for up to 26 weeks at a time. If in the judgment of an employment officer someone is not actively seeking work and he fails the hardship testit may be that he has a mild mental health condition or a moderate learning disability or English may not be his first language: he is inadequate, he is incompetent, he is not significantly manipulative to get by in the systemthat person will be without any income at all for 26 weekssix months.
Clearly, those who do not seek work when they should and could, will come within the framework of sanction and penalty. We do not challenge that. But what we are seeking to do here is to ensure that the conditions described by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, are set out on the face of the Bill. I am referring to people who without JSA and hardship payment would go without food, clothing, heating, or a home; or, equally, people who without a hardship payment would see their physical or mental health deteriorate because they are not sick enough to qualify for a new, tough incapacity benefit; people who have a mild disability problem or a health problem which produces additional costs which they cannot meet so their condition will otherwise worsen; or people who are likely to go into debt and therefore suffer disconnection from water or fuel, or eviction; or people who, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said, cannot even re-enter the search for a job because they have no money to pay for fares. We say that all such people surely should be recognised as being in hardship.
The Minister may tell us that this will be done by regulation. We had that argument and your Lordships gave a verdict on it when we discussed availability for work and actively seeking work. If your Lordships were minded to pass this amendment we would turn a framework Bill into less of a framework Bill and place more on the face of the Bill, so people would know where they stood. Secondly, we would be ensuring that people who are in hardship, as so defined, would have some income and would not therefore have a right to break windows and a right to steal. Thirdly, we would be producing some measure of protection for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, I support what the noble Baroness has just said. I shall not go into any more detail about the amendment except to make two points. When the noble Baroness said that certain people could be left for 26 weeks without any money, the Minister shook his head. Can the noble Lord make it absolutely clear when he comes to reply that it is not possible for anyone to be left for 26 weeks without any means of feeding himself? My second reason for supporting the amendment very strongly is the fact that this is a framework Bill and we are deeply opposed to the extent to which so many things of importance are being left to regulation. We have fought that all the way through and we shall continue to fight it.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask her what I would have asked the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, if she had not already sat down. I should have liked to thank her for her presentation and to have congratulated her on her art of presentation. I should have liked to ask her, before she sat down, how she proposes that the adjudication under paragraphs (a) to (d) in practice would be made, first, by the employment officer, and, then, by the adjudication officer. How in practice does she envisage that that would happen?
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