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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does the Minister agree that as regards the use of contact lenses it might be difficult to insert a new set if the originals are lost or misplaced as a result of an accident? Will the Minister indicate the basis on which the Government have apparently calculated that a small number of drivers, about 0.2 per cent., are likely to be affected by the new standards? Furthermore, is he able to suggest any method of compensation which might apply to drivers, in particular those who have been working for a long time, who have little opportunity of alternative employment if they are disqualified as a result of what, essentially, is a sensible new code?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord's support of the new requirement and we agree that there are important road safety issues. Compensation will be determinant on the terms of the individual driver's contract with his employer. The noble Lord was right about contact lenses. Trying to put on the spare pair of glasses after a lens has fallen out might make the situation worse. It is true that our estimate is that some 3,000 drivers--approximately 0.2 per cent. of the total--could be affected by the directive. That is based on our existing information and records.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the Minister has not indicated how that information has been collated. He has dealt in part with the question of the employed driver but what about the self-employed driver who may have no such compensation available and whose business may be totally ruined?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, as with other health failings, if a driver falls below the required health standard it must be true that he must no longer be at the wheel of a large vehicle. We all know that substantial casualties can result from a heavy goods vehicle that is incorrectly driven. I can only reiterate that our estimate is based on the records that we hold and on advice and information from the Chief Medical Adviser.
Lord Monson: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the EC directive in question breaches the principle of subsidiarity, bearing in mind that in the United States, Canada and Australia different states and different provinces have different road traffic laws and regulations? Does not that demonstrate that the zealots
The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19th December be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am also speaking to the four other regulations on the Order Paper. The jobseeker's allowance is a major step forward in creating a labour market in Britain which generates jobs and in helping unemployed people to get those jobs. It is the next stage in the Government's strategy whose success is now clear for all to see.
Unemployment has now fallen for 28 successive months. The Government's economic policy has created an exceptionally favourable climate for the start of new businesses and inward investment into the UK. The fall in unemployment is set against a background where this country now has lower unemployment and more people in work than any other major European Union country. Employment has grown substantially over recent years. New vacancies continue to be notified to Jobcentres at record levels and the number of people getting jobs through the help of Employment Service staff is also at record levels. We are determined to reinforce that success.
The benefit system has a vital role to play in helping unemployed people into jobs. It should help and motivate every jobseeker. The current system of unemployment benefit and income support does not always do so. It contains disincentives to work. It is complex, out of date and confusing for claimants. It fails to target help on those who need it most. Above all, it was designed to support people while they are out of work. Unemployed people want help to get back to work. That is what the jobseeker's allowance will provide. That is what the regulations are about.
In our White Paper in October 1994 the Government set out the three main aims for the new, modern benefit. First, we aim to improve the operation of the labour market by helping people in their search for work, while ensuring that they understand and fulfil the conditions for the receipt of benefit. JSA emphasises the responsibilities of unemployed people to take every advantage of the opportunities open to them to get back to work.
Secondly, we aim to secure better value for money for the taxpayer by a streamlined administration, closer targeting on those who need financial support and a regime which more effectively helps them find jobs.
Thirdly, we aim to improve the service we give to unemployed people through a clearer, coherent benefit structure and a better integration of the payment of benefits with the delivery of help and advice to find work. We want to give jobseekers the most effective and up-to-date support that we can devise. Through the new labour market computer system, employment advisers will have unprecedented access to information on vacancies and other opportunities which they will be able to match against the needs of the individual jobseeker.
We debated at length, in this House and in another place, our proposals during the passage of the Jobseekers Bill last year. The regulations provide a further level of detail, setting out the rules which will apply when jobseeker's allowance is introduced in October. In view of those earlier debates, and of the extensive nature of the regulations, I thought it best to cover matters in a general introductory speech. I shall, of course, listen most carefully to comments made during the debate and will, as far as I possibly can, endeavour to answer the points raised in my response.
Part II of the regulations deals with the labour market tests which are at the heart of the allowance and upon which we spent many hours in debate. They are designed to ensure that all jobseekers are open to the full range of job opportunities and are making all reasonable efforts to find work. There will be no change in JSA to the basic availability condition that people must be willing and able to take up immediately any offer of employment. That has been a requirement for unemployment benefits for a long time. To allow jobseekers to adapt to the flexible nature of the modern labour market, Regulation 7 will permit them to agree an individual pattern of availability across the week. That easement is balanced by a new requirement that jobseekers should normally be available for employment of at least 40 hours a week.
Regulation 13 makes particular provision for people who wish to restrict their availability on religious or conscientious grounds, for those with caring responsibilities for children or sick or elderly relatives, and for people with disabilities. In line with the commitments that we made during the passage of the Bill, disabled people may restrict their availability in any way, provided that the restrictions are reasonable in the light of their physical or mental condition.
Jobseekers must actively seek employment in every week that they are unemployed. We are making no significant departures from the approach adopted since the benefit reforms of the 1980s. Indeed, that has now become accepted as a key responsibility of jobseekers. But in searching for work, jobseekers must adopt a flexible approach. So Regulation 18 broadens the range of steps expected of a jobseeker so that they include actions to improve prospects of employment, such as drawing up a CV or seeking specialist advice. At the
As a new condition of entitlement, claimants must enter into a jobseeker's agreement with the Employment Service. Each agreement will be individually tailored, recording how each jobseeker will be available for work and the best route for him or her to find a job. The agreement will ensure that jobseekers have information about the expert advice and services available at Jobcentres. Trials of a prototype of the agreement have already been conducted in some Jobcentres, with very encouraging reactions from jobseekers. As some noble Lords will recall, many of the provisions relating to the agreement, and the access to independent adjudication for the resolution of disputes, lie in the Act itself. The regulations before the House today cover a number of more minor details such as the prescribed contents and the circumstances relevant for the backdating of an agreement.
The vast majority of unemployed people make every effort to find work, but we need effective measures against the minority who do not. Social security law has always included penalties for those who break the rules. It is wholly reasonable that those who pay taxes should not subsidise those who make little attempt to get a job.
The sanctions regime in JSA is detailed in Part V of the regulations. These will make it crystal clear that those who do not meet their obligations will suffer a loss of benefit. The Act sets out those obligations and the sanctions which may be imposed. However, we also recognise that sanctions should not be imposed where a jobseeker has good cause for his actions in, for example, refusing the offer of a job or a place on an employment course. Regulations 72 and 73 set out the circumstances that we expect independent adjudication officers to consider and the circumstances in which a jobseeker is to be regarded as having good cause.
A balance also has to be struck between protecting the taxpayer and protecting the vulnerable from loss of benefit which may subject them to unreasonable hardship. Part IX covers the regulations on how we shall protect those most at risk of hardship, who are listed in Regulation 140. Claimants with children, those who are sick, disabled or pregnant--or who have partners in that position--and those with caring responsibilities will at any time be able to receive reduced payments if they would otherwise suffer hardship. Regulations 141 to 144 detail the circumstances in which payments may be made, which include protection against delays in the system of deciding entitlement to benefit.
The Government guarantee every young person under the age of 18 who wants one a suitable youth training place. We are spending £676 million on youth training this year in England alone. There is no reason why young people need to be unemployed.
The Government's guarantee to 16 and 17 year-olds removes the need for general access to benefits. Indeed, we do not wish to encourage dependency on benefit at such an early age. The current approach in income support will, therefore, be followed in JSA. We
We also aim to improve the help and service to young people. A specially tailored jobseeker's agreement will be introduced under Regulation 66. The agreement will reflect the Government's commitment to the importance of training for young people. It will build on a form completed at the Careers Service and will include details of the type of training and work the young person is seeking and the action agreed to achieve his goals. The vital role of the Careers Service will continue but now as part of a two-stop service; a young person need only have contact with the Careers Service and the Jobcentre to make a claim for JSA. He will no longer also have to attend the Benefits Agency.
The new allowance will provide financial help for unemployed people and their dependants according to their needs, and this will be paid as long as they need it. Those who have paid sufficient national insurance contributions will receive a personal rate, irrespective of their capital or their partner's earnings, for up to six months--the point by which the majority of jobseekers have left unemployment. The majority of unemployed people will, we expect, receive the income-based element of JSA. In bringing together contribution-based and income-based elements, we will provide a single coherent benefit for unemployed people. There will be an end to the confusion where unemployed people could be entitled to one or the other benefit, with different rules and handled by different agencies, or even to both benefits at the same time.
Much of the content of the regulations before the House today deals with the assessment of the amounts of benefit to which people are entitled: for instance Part VII deals with the applicable amounts, and Part VIII with the treatment of income, of capital or of earnings. In the majority of cases we have had the example of income support to follow. There will, however, be some significant improvements. For instance, we will provide new help for couples, enabling partners of JSA claimants to work up to 24 hours--not 16 as now--which will encourage partners to remain in or take part-time work. Couples will also be able to earn £10 without their allowance being affected, even if only one is working.
Many unemployed people get substantial occupational pensions from their previous employer. Pensions are already fully taken into account in income support and it is right, too, that larger occupational and personal pensions should reduce the amount of contribution-based benefit for people of any age. But the present limit is too severe. Regulation 81, therefore, removes the arbitrary age threshold and raises the amount of pension that can be paid without affecting benefit from £35 to £50 a week.
Throughout the passage of the Jobseekers Bill we emphasised that JSA should be seen as one of a far-reaching package of work incentive measures. The other sets of regulations before the House today complete the picture. The unemployment and poverty traps have been significantly alleviated over recent years. Only a tiny proportion of the working population would not be better off in work than remaining on out-of-work benefits. This imaginative package of regulations we have today addresses three big issues. It gives direct encouragement to unemployed people to undertake part-time work and to use that as a stepping stone to full-time work. It removes uncertainty at the point of moving into work, and it encourages employers to look more favourably on the long-term unemployed.
The back-to-work bonus is a clear demonstration of our resolve to remove disincentives within the benefit system. At present unemployed people who take part-time jobs can lose benefit almost pound for pound. Yet if they could keep their full benefit on top of their part-time earnings they would have little incentive to go on to full-time work. The back-to-work bonus squares this circle. It is a far more effective and better targeted measure than would be raising earnings disregards across the board.
Jobseekers and their partners who take small amounts of work while on benefit can build up entitlement to a lump sum bonus of up to £1,000. They can cash this in when they move off benefit into work. The bonus will be paid to people who move off JSA at pension age, and at the age of 60 to income support claimants who have participated in the scheme, so that the bonus will not be lost. Following commitments which I made, and which my honourable friends made in another place during the passage of the Bill, the regulations provide for extensive linking rules to protect the position of many people who leave JSA for incapacity benefit during long periods of sickness or disability. We expect to pay at least 150,000 bonuses each year once the scheme is up and running. This scheme will encourage people to stay in touch with the world of work while they are on benefit and to keep their skills up to date. It will give claimants a financial boost at a crucial time by helping them to meet the expenses connected with the move back to work.
Building on the incentives for the long-term unemployed already provided by programmes funded by the Department for Education and Employment, today's regulations also provide for a national insurance contribution holiday of up to 12 months for employers who employ someone who has been out of work for two years or more. This will encourage employers to take on long-term unemployed people. Some 130,000 people are likely to be helped in this scheme and it is worth some £50 million a year to employers in national insurance savings.
Finally, I commend to the House the amendments to housing benefit and council tax benefit regulations. These underpin the measures being introduced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security to enable housing and council tax benefits to run on for four weeks regardless of earnings for people who leave unemployment for work. The purpose of the measure is twofold. First, it enables authorities to
Before I sit down your Lordships should be aware that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has drawn the special attention of the House to the JSA regulations. The fifth report has drawn attention to Regulation 150 where there are two printers' errors in the formulae and the committee has reported Regulation 152 as being defectively drafted to both Houses. The correct formulae are reproduced in a memorandum which was sent to the JCSI by the Department of Social Security and is attached as an annex to the fifth report. As both mistakes were as a result of printers' error we have undertaken to correct these errors in the version of the regulations published following approval of both Houses. Quite simply two numbers--in both cases a seven--have been printed in the final copy in the wrong place.
With regard to the defective drafting, it would appear that the gremlins which affected our regulations have also been busy in the JCSI report. The absence of the definition of the variable "N" for which Regulation 152 was reported as being defectively drafted is in fact missing from Regulation 151. It appears that both the committee and ourselves have suffered from the same printing gremlins. The committee pointed out that the meaning of "N" is reasonably clear but nevertheless should have been included. I wish to give an undertaking that this deficiency will be corrected by means of an amending instrument as soon as possible.
This is an extensive and far reaching package of legislation being debated today. I recall that at one stage someone urged me not to introduce secondary legislation and to incorporate everything on the face of the Bill as it passed through the House. I indicated that that would make the Bill a great deal bigger than it was. If one looks at the regulations before us today, that goes some way towards vindicating my position. As I said, this is an extensive and a far-reaching package. There is, however, one simple, common theme to all the regulations; it is the Government's commitment to offer every help, every encouragement and every incentive to unemployed people to find work as quickly as possible. We are already offering 1.5 million opportunities to unemployed people on government programmes and will continue that commitment next year. The Employment Service is already placing record numbers of people into jobs. We want to build on that achievement. The introduction of JSA will further that success and I commend the regulations to noble Lords.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, Whenever I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I am persuaded by nearly everything he says; he is one of the most convincing speakers on the Government Front Bench. However, it is only after having spent hours reading the Act and the regulations that I find an extraordinary gulf between what the Minister says will be the effects of the regulations and the legislation on which they are based and what appears to be spelt out in the paper.
The Minister began by making a couple of Second Reading points and I hope that he will forgive me if I do the same. The first of those points is that unemployment is very much a function of the definition of unemployment. Noble Lords should be concerned that the legislation accepts that there may be decent, honourable men and women who are unemployed through no fault of their own. They should not be defined out of existence by governments of all colours in order to show that unemployment is falling. Unemployment has been redefined on many occasions and each definition has affected the statistics.
The next Second Reading point is that I totally accept the noble Lord's submission that the proper and responsible administration of public expenditure is the responsibility of noble Lords and of another place. That however is not our sole duty and obligation. It is our obligation to balance that responsibility against ensuring that each citizen enjoys as much liberty as is constant with his acceptance of the rule of law and the rights of other people. It is in regard to that second criterion that I am profoundly concerned about the Bill because it imposes a level of petty restrictions on individuals which goes far beyond the spirit of the concept of citizenship in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred to my third objection; that secondary legislation is the vehicle for so much legislation that affects ordinary citizens in their daily lives. The noble Lord indicated that significant legislation has to be in a secondary legislation form; that is, regulations and not primary legislation. It is incumbent upon both Houses of Parliament to properly scrutinise and explore that legislation when it affects tens of thousands of our fellow citizens. With great respect, two-and-a-half hours on the Floor of the Upper House is not an adequate scrutiny of these significant regulations.
The Minister was kind enough to take note of noble Lords' objections and accepts that, in regard to availability, notice given under Regulation 5 to those doing voluntary work could be extended from 24 hours to 48 hours. All those who live in the real world know that 24 hours' notice to make oneself available for work, or even 48 hours if one is undertaking a voluntary job, is a very short time. I am concerned that the 48-hour
The Minister referred to Regulation 13, which concerns the availability for work of people who have a disability or incapacity or who cannot be invariably available for work. The Minister assured noble Lords that people could draw up a jobseeker's agreement whereby it would be understood that they could not always be available for work. Can the Minister interpret Regulation 7(3) which states that if someone is unavailable for one day or more each week they can be treated as being not available for work at all, which means that they are not entitled to jobseeker's allowance?
Can the Minister say whether there is a conflict between Regulation 9 and Regulation 16? We welcome Regulation 9. It introduces the concept that somebody may not put a floor to the remuneration they expect under a period of 26 weeks. Regulation 16 relates back to existing legislation under which the permitted period is 13 weeks. Can the Minister state whether the words "permitted period" refer to 13 weeks or 26 weeks, because that is a matter of great importance?
I turn to the area of civil liberties and Regulation 18(3) and (4). We are told that somebody could be regarded as not properly actively seeking work on the grounds of their behaviour or appearance. That aspect caused a great deal of concern when noble Lords discussed the primary legislation, because the judgment of behaviour and appearance is subjective. Many people of my generation deeply dislike seeing young men with an earring, but that is not a reason for saying that they are not actively seeking work; indeed, to their generation they may be thought only to be actively seeking certain kinds of work in the popular music field. Can the Minister assure noble Lords that this very wide phrase "behaviour and appearance" will be interpreted in a way that will not impose the employment officer's view as to what is proper behaviour and appearance, which may be different from what the bulk of our fellow citizens regard as acceptable? There are many anxieties about that matter.
Chapter 4 states that the Secretary of State will indicate who shall attend, and when, and that he can ask for such information as may be required. If they do not appear twice, having been given due notice, they can be struck off the rolls and lose their entitlement to JSA.
I am concerned that there is no reference to the ability of a jobseeker who may genuinely have become ill, or whose wife or child may have become ill, to attend at the time and place specified. I do not understand why a phrase like "without reasonable grounds" cannot be written into the legislation. We are talking about people's income and in some cases their entire means of livelihood.
There is an issue under Chapter 5 in relation to so-called notional income. I ask noble Lords to give me a moment's attention. This is one of the most outrageous aspects of the regulations. Regulation 105(13) states that a jobseeker who does a service for another person will be treated as having been paid the market rate for that service if that person is able to pay that rate or, indeed, to pay at all. The regulation states that,
In other words, if I do my neighbour a service--I do her shopping for her or decide to drive her to the local medical centre--I shall be assumed to have made the income that would be paid to a person doing that trip on a strictly commercial basis. That sum will then be deducted on the basis that it is notional income. I can think of nothing more calculated to penalise the good neighbour than this extraordinary regulation. I beg the Minister to read it again, to tell me that my interpretation is wrong, if it is, but if it is right to ensure that the regulation is withdrawn. Surely in this day and age we do not want to force good and well-meaning people to have to charge for everything they do for their neighbours when otherwise it will be held against them.
Finally, I come to a regulation which I believe is quite extraordinarily mean. I refer to the regulation on what income will be disregarded for the purposes of income related benefit. Among those sources of income where we are graciously told that £10 a week will be allowed are war widows' pensions, war disability pensions and--almost as an ironic twist to the list--the allowances provided for those who have suffered from persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime. I cannot believe that the Government really want to pinch pennies from these most deserving of all our fellow citizens.
Lord Chorley: My Lords, I propose to restrict my remarks to Regulation 12, which deals with voluntary work, and consequential parts of the instrument. I begin by declaring an interest as chairman of the National Trust, a body which will be intimately affected by this statutory instrument.
During the passage of the Bill last May, I and other noble Lords drew attention to the effect that the proposed regulations would have on the voluntary sector; that is to say, on our training programmes which can offer volunteers the opportunity of working towards gaining national vocational qualifications. Those programmes are an important way for young people to enter into employment as well, of course, as benefiting the charity concerned through the useful work that the volunteers carry out.
There was support from all sides of the House for the important role that the voluntary sector can play in this regard. Indeed, the Minister was good enough to recognise that when he gave a commitment to reflect and consult the main voluntary organisations involved.
In August we duly received the consultation document. I have to say that yet again there seemed to us to be a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the training work that we give to volunteers; namely, a positive way of gaining real work experience, training and skills through these programmes which for many volunteers were a route--possibly their only route--to their first job. I said during the passage of the Bill, and I say it again, that some 80 per cent. of the National Trust's unemployed volunteers go on to full time employment--and that is several hundred young people a year. All of that we reiterated in our reply to the consultation document.
We now have the draft instrument itself. I have read with care and with some difficulty the relevant parts of the document. I find it an extremely difficult document to construe and to work one's way through. I shall come back to that point later.
First, we welcome the formal recognition in Regulation 12 of the existence of the voluntary sector. But the detail of this section is not encouraging. It appears extremely restrictive. To put the point quite simply, one cannot expect organisations to take people on to training schemes when the individual may, at any moment--that is, at 48 hours' notice--be required to leave his uncompleted training programme to take up full time employment, which incidentally may be quite unrelated to the skills or experience for which he has been trained. That appears to be the effect of Regulation 12, so far as I understand it.
In other words, if the volunteer's job prospects are improved by his voluntary work programme, he can be allowed to go ahead with his training. That sounds good, but it is crucial that it is administered in a wise and sensible manner. If so, we ought to be able to relax. However, I come back to my earlier remark regarding the complexity of the document.
It is a document which runs to 160 pages of extreme complexity, at least to me. I really wonder how the ordinary clerical officer in an employment centre can hope to carry out and, in many cases, to understand the huge amount of detail in the instrument. He will need considerable guidance.
The situation is difficult enough already. We find our volunteers' schemes increasingly constricted by contradictions and confusions of current benefits rules; and we are not alone in that finding. We find much evidence up and down the country of inconsistencies in the local interpretation of the rules, and an over-rigid exercise--perhaps one should say a lack of exercise--of discretion by agency officials. How much more difficult will it be with the extremely complex rules now proposed?
In another place the Minister recently stated, in reply to a question, that training is being given and will be given to staff to implement the new regulations. I fear nevertheless that such is the length, detail and complexity of the new regulations that they will give rise to even more difficulties than those that we have experienced in recent years.
I refer to Regulation 18(2)(g). How can we get over the important point that is not brought out: that this voluntary work is training for job skills? All along this has been the message that we do not seem to be able to put over. It will be extremely difficult to get the message and the explanation of the value of structured training for volunteers across to the hundreds of clerical officers up and down the country. Therefore I conclude by asking the Minister whether the employment office will consult the main voluntary sector bodies on how job training schemes will be covered in the training and guidance to its staff. If the voluntary sector can be of any help in this respect, we would be only too happy to give whatever help we can.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I wish to raise one point on the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations. It deals with hardship payments to people with mental health problems. At the Third Reading of the Bill, when dealing with Amendment No. 7 (which I moved) the Minister stated that the Government intended to exclude "single, healthy claimants" from benefit if they failed to meet the basic conditions of entitlement. That is from the Official Report of 23rd May 1995, at col. 956. Amendments were tabled at that stage to define "hardship" and "serious medical condition" for the purpose of hardship payments. The concern raised during the debate was the exclusion of people with mental health problems from the definition of hardship. Regulation 140(1)(g) of the regulations refers only to "physical impairment".
At Third Reading my noble friend indicated that the Government were not convinced that it was necessary to include mental health problems, as people with serious mental health problems would be treated as incapable of work and exempt from the all-work test for incapacity benefit. However, the problem is likely to arise with people whose condition may be less severe but which, none-the-less, prevents their functioning in everyday society. Already my advisers have encountered examples of people with mental health problems who have received incapacity benefit all-work test questionnaires and have been so struck with anxiety that
The incapacity benefit regulations state that if the claimant fails to attend for an examination without good cause, benefit will cease immediately. But as the onus is on the claimant to prove good cause, unless an advocate or adviser can explain the situation to the Benefits Agency, benefit could be wrongly withdrawn, with no incapacity benefit. The only option for such people is to sign on.
But people with mental health problems may have difficulty in satisfying the conditions of actively seeking work or may fail to follow a direction because of the state of their mental health rather than from any deliberate intention. The Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations will preclude anyone from claiming a hardship payment in such circumstances.
Regulation 28 ignores illness and disability as factors to be taken into account in establishing whether the claimant had good cause for not complying with a notice to attend at such place and time as specified. Taken with Regulation 140, many disabled people could fall foul of these regulations and yet be unable to claim a hardship payment as a last resort.
The definition of who is eligible for a hardship payment is further limited to people with a physical disability, a chronic medical condition which has lasted or is likely to last for 26 weeks. Can my noble friend indicate whether the 26 weeks is continuous, or would someone with an intermittent or fluctuating condition still fall within that provision? For example, what about someone with ME or arthritis who is not considered to be sufficiently "incapable of work"? Do the regulations exclude such people from hardship payments?
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, pointed out the difficulties we are having with secondary legislation. As was mentioned, the regulations are 160 pages long, but the Act under which the regulations are laid is only 52 pages long. The regulations are three times as long as the Act, yet we are spending only a short time this afternoon on them when we spent several days, working long into the night, at various stages of the Bill as it went through the House.
I wonder whether it would be sensible to have a Select Committee to examine regulations in draft. If the committee thought fit, it could take evidence as to the effects of the regulations before it. I know that it is not within my noble friend's remit to respond to that when answering the debate, but it is worth putting the comment on the record so that those who have the task of examining the matter can consider it in due course.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, unlike most of the previous speakers, apart from the beginning of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I wish to turn from the particular to the general. I have never made any secret of the fact that I believe that the state in general and the social security system in particular should be the basic insurance system for everyone in
I should like in particular to consider the first category. At the moment, assuming that enough contributions have been paid into the National Insurance Fund, the unemployed worker receives £46.45 a week for the first year--though the ever burgeoning cost of social security has made it necessary to reduce that to six months, as we find under the order. We must not forget that for half the people who lose their jobs six months is long enough. They will be re-employed by the end of that period. The state insurance scheme has worked for them, although they will almost certainly have had to tighten their belts and exist on a reduced income. Most of them will have savings; some will have a working partner. I have mentioned it in this House before but I must tell my noble friend that I still fail to understand why we should bother with them at all. Why can we not have a means-tested benefit from the beginning, with the quid pro quo of a reduced national insurance payment? That has never been answered to my satisfaction and I may return to the point later, either today or on another occasion.
That said, three months later (that is nine months after redundancy or whatever the reason there may be for unemployment) another half--in other words three-quarters of the original--will be back in work. The Government have gone some way towards my ideal here. From six months and a day, benefit is means-tested and the equivalent of income support comes into play. Quite right, say I. The trouble is that there have been times when that is paid at a different rate. When it happens, it is either unfair or generous, depending on whether the unemployment benefit or the income support is the higher. Unless my information is terribly out of date, at today's rate income support for a single man of 25 years or over is £46.50; unemployment benefit is 5 pence lower. On the other hand, a couple on income support will receive £73, but on unemployment benefit it will be £75.10. We should have done something about that years ago.
From October, we are to have a unified benefit for the jobseeker's allowance. It will not matter whether an individual is impoverished, the payments will, as I understand it, be the same in the first six months. If the individual falls below the means test level it will remain the same thereafter, always supposing that there is no part-time work available. If so, there is a new and welcome carrot in the jobseeker's allowance. Although, as heretofore, the allowance is to be reduced by the amount of earnings, a credit of half the amount taken away is to be credited to the claimant and may be redeemed up to £1,000 when he or she gets into full-time work.
From the point of view of the operation of the scheme, that is a complication. We will only know whether it will work after it has been operating for a while. Will people claim it? Will it be paid promptly? I was grateful for my noble friend's commitment on that latter point. We do not know, but on paper at least it
I know that putative savings were given in the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill which underpins today's orders; but I should be grateful if my noble friend could give us the figures, revised as they should have been, now that more thought has been given to them. Not only will there be a saving to the taxpayer in administration costs; there will also be a lot more clarity for claimants. My noble friend probably has at his fingertips the number of different rules now in place, depending on whether a claim is being made for income support or unemployment benefit. If he does not, they jolly well ought to be at arm's length.
Under JSA there is to be only one set of rules, and normally one benefit office--the Jobcentre. Incidentally, I wonder what "normally" means. I also wonder what pressure could be put on those out of benefit not receiving the JSA after the first six months. At the same time, I reiterate a point already made several times that these regulations are extremely lengthy and extremely complicated. Not only will they be extremely difficult for the adjudication officers; they will be even more difficult for claimants. I should like to be told that there will be produced, as quickly as these regulations have been, a claimant's guide so that people know what the rules and regulations are as they affect them.
That said, JSA is a better, clearer system of state aid for the unemployed. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I will never agree that it is right that 18 to 24 year-olds should be paid less under any scheme, and I am sure that the noble Earl is about to regret that that has been continued. We shall see. I realise I am putting words into his mouth. The arguments pro and con have been set out endlessly over many years and we shall just have to agree to differ.
However, what matters is not so much the insurance policy but the success rate in getting people back to work. Unemployment benefit, income support or the new jobseeker's allowance should not be seen as a right but as the government side of a contract. Claimants should do all in their power to help themselves back into work, and if necessary Jobcentres should help them. That, after all, is their commensurate duty. In other words, there should be, as I say, a contract between the unemployed and the Government. While I have never heard it expressed quite like that, that is in effect what we now have under these regulations. Unemployed people already have to be available for and actively seeking work for 40 hours or more a week. They can, if necessary, be instructed to take certain steps to find work. That is quite right. After all, in any other sphere rights and duties go together. Why not here?
During the lifetime of this Government there have been several major improvements to the social security system, both to help people find work and to help them while they are in work. It has, in a word, become more attractive to be in work. Under the Fowler reforms the structure of income-related benefits was streamlined, so
On the practical side, we now have training for work, job clubs, the job interview guarantee, work trials, job plan workshops, restart courses, the jobfinder's grant and the travel to interview scheme. They may not be perfect, and one can no doubt pick holes in any one of them. But it is undeniable that at the last count they covered 1,226,000 people. The Opposition will no doubt comment rather sourly that they need to. Yes, I agree with them; they do need to. But surely the point is that whatever the level of unemployment, for the individual it is always demoralising and always descends into a dismal spiral.
Where were the equivalent schemes when we entered government? Where are the great ideas to replace them after the election that the Labour Party believe they will win? Or perhaps they believe that they do not need replacing because they are working. Are we to have a blinding admission that they are here to stay? After all, a constant reduction in the unemployment figures for the past 28 months, with an average fall of over 12,000 a month in the past six months, at a time of low growth does not just happen, does it? There must be a reason for it. I am no economist, and I should love to know an economist's view on that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in his place. Perhaps he can make a three-minute intervention when I have sat down.
The only consistent policy I have heard of from the party opposite is the national minimum wage and the social chapter. When I had that thought on the train this morning travelling to London I remembered that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, had made remarks on the minimum wage in a debate some time ago. I asked him if I could quote him, to which he replied that he would be delighted. That is what I now propose to do, very briefly. The noble Lord said:
From that, I draw the conclusion that if the point is at least arguable, the Opposition will do it anyway, and I should not have thought that that was exactly conviction politics. The other matter to mention in this regard is the social chapter. It sits rather oddly--does it not?--
What no one can afford to leave alone is the costs and benefits of our social security provision. How easy it is to find improvements for people less fortunate than ourselves. How hard it is becoming to find the money to pay for that. I have been convinced for some time now that there are ways by which both can be reconciled. At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned the first six months of unemployment and my belief that for a lot of people it is simply not necessary.
There are of course other ideas that come to the fore from time to time, some of which have had a lot of effort put into them by the party opposite. I wonder, for instance, what happened to the idea of taxing child allowance. Perhaps it will re-emerge in the Opposition's third look at social security. Perhaps not--in the circumstances it is not an obvious vote winner.
What has emerged from my right honourable friend Mr. Lilley and his department is a very useful and very fair tidying up exercise which will--given that, as I hope, my noble friend will announce today a claimant's guide--benefit both the taxpayer and the claimant. I wish them well with the jobseeker's allowance.
Baroness Seear: My Lords, I wish very much to reinforce the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, about the 48-hour limit, both for people with caring responsibilities and for volunteers. If these were not regulations but had been part of the Bill on which we could vote, I believe that the 48-hour limit would be a matter on which an amendment would have been tabled, and on which I suspect the Government would have lost.
That is a good argument in itself for saying that there is much in the regulations which ought not to be in the form of regulations but ought to be in primary legislation so that the House could amend and change some of these very, very important matters. They are not minor details. They are not matters that should be in regulations because they can and need to be changed at frequent intervals. They are in themselves matters of principle and should therefore be in primary legislation.
I was most interested in the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen; namely, if we are to have regulations of this detail and this length, a procedure should be developed--perhaps the usual channels and those who consider the way in which this House is run could examine the matter--so that we are not again landed with a mammoth document of this kind, not only in length but in the importance of its detail. I wish to speak about some of the details. I will stop if the Minister wishes to finish his conversation; I do not know whether that is convenient to him. I have not spent years teaching in a university without knowing how to stop people who gossip!
Today volunteers are an important part of the way in which voluntary organisations are run. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, spoke about this in relation to the National Trust. We in the Apex Trust have been using volunteers to very good effect. They are valuable to us. It would be extremely awkward if, in order to comply with the 48-hour rule, they had to down tools and go at two days' notice.
There is another reason, with which I am sure the noble Lord will sympathise, why we want volunteers to be encouraged and not discouraged and to be able to carry out voluntary obligations satisfactorily. With the new methods of training and examining which come with the NVQs--I speak as chairman of the administration lead body--people receive training in voluntary work which enables them to comply with the requirements of NVQ and obtain a qualification. That is exactly the kind of thing that the noble Lord wants them to do. It will enable them to get jobs. To achieve level 1 or level 2 of an NVQ can greatly enhance a person's opportunity to obtain work. The regulations ought to be such as to give the greatest possible encouragement to volunteers; they should not make the requirements so tight and restrictive as to discourage voluntary work. I beg the noble Lord to look again at that limitation, which will prove to be very severe for a great many people. The disadvantages spread beyond the particular disadvantage to the individual concerned.
I should like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about behaviour and appearance. She quoted the case of a man who had one earring who might be somewhat unacceptable to a regular employment officer in the Employment Service. I am not familiar with the kind of work that is carried out by people with one earring. However, if I am not mistaken, I believe that there are some jobs in which it may be a disqualification not to wear one earring. There is a whole market for one-earring clients. If such people turned up for work looking more like the noble Lord, they probably would not get the job. They would have to go home to redress and equip themselves with one earring in order to be satisfactory employees in that field. That is perhaps slightly frivolous, but today there are a number of jobs on the periphery of normal employment. There are still jobs for those who do not look like those who obtain jobs in banks or the more usual areas of employment.
Finally, the noble Lord claims that this measure will make it easier--I am sure it will--for people who are at present unemployed and will give them greater encouragement to get back to work. However, in my view, it does not go anything like far enough. Our present social security provisions are such that there is a real disincentive to take on jobs. I remind the noble Lord that not so long ago the applied economics unit at Cambridge came up with some figures--I accept that this Act will modify the position, but only to a very mild extent--which showed that if a man and his wife were both unemployed and had two children at school, in order to increase the family income by £20 they would have to earn £170 because of the limitations of the benefits system and the passport benefits which went with income support. While I accept that the Act goes a little way to alleviate this ridiculous situation, I ask whether there is any Member of your Lordships' House who will do £170 worth of work in order to get £20. As long as that situation obtains, no changes in the system of benefits will make a great deal of difference. This is a step in the right direction, but a very small one.
Lord Desai: My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, invited me to comment I saw the Minister vigorously shaking his hand in the hope that I would not do any such thing because it would only delay matters further. I shall try to be brief.
This is not a simple matter of social insurance; it is jointly a matter of social insurance and a bureaucratic set of rules. We have 160 pages of rules for what should be a much simpler matter. While the Government try to encourage jobseeking, they still believe that people are unemployed because there are jobs that they are not seeking. I believe that that is a fallacy. If unemployment has been going down for the past 28 months it is because we have had a recovery during that time and for the 36 months before that the number of jobs was going down because of recession.
Whether or not jobs are there does not have so much effect on the behaviour of jobseekers as does the macro economy. Whether or not you have a minimum wage, the effect on employment will depend on what else you do to encourage the economy. In general, if you do not do anything to encourage the economy unemployment will increase--jobseeker's allowance or no jobseeker's allowance. That point has not yet been understood by the Government. The general climate of investment and recovery and what one does about taxation and interest rates are the matters which determine unemployment, not these rules, desirable though they may be.
The problem that the Government have not thought through for the past 16 years is that if they wish to encourage good behaviour they should stop suspecting, as the welfare state inevitably does, citizens of being out to cheat. We have 160 pages of regulations
Earl Russell: My Lords, I was very interested in the suggestion of a claimant's guide from the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I entirely agree with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, about the difficulty of understanding many of the regulations. If that suggestion were adopted, I should welcome it. I wonder whether the Minister would place that--or, at the very least, the guidance for the employment officers and adjudication officers--in the Library of your Lordships' House. He might find that it would save him a good deal of unnecessary correspondence.
I congratulate the Minister on the lucid way in which he introduced the regulations. However, he made one comment which surprised me a little. He described the regulations as "minor details". Details they may be, but they will affect the lives of more people in a more significant way than will perhaps any Bill that is likely to come before us this Session. Under those circumstances they need individual examination, regulation by regulation.
Your Lordships' House collectively possesses a considerable amount of expertise. I regret that we are not using a procedure that enables us to scrutinise the regulations one by one. In that context, I was most interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I hope that more thought will be given to them all around the House.
I shall attempt to resist the temptation to make a Second Reading speech and I shall address the regulations one by one. I take first the transitional provisions under Statutory Instrument No. 3276. I was a little taken aback by Regulation 16 of those regulations concerning "Questions not immediately ascertainable". It provides first that the housing costs which are to be included in the claimant's applicable amount are those which are immediately ascertainable. I dare say that, before we have gone through the Leasehold (Reform) Bill, which I understand is likely to be laid before us shortly, we may have heard a good deal more of that provision.
Your Lordships may be aware that there has been a learned exchange taking place in the columns of Public Law about the relationship between statute and the principles of natural justice. It is an arcane question in which, wearing my other hat, I have some interest. In the course of that exchange, I was taken to task by Mr. Justice Laws for giving too much weight to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. The Minister
In the income support consequential amendments regulations, I was struck by a regulation which dealt with those people over 50 who had not worked for over 10 years. It occurred to me to check how many people might be affected by the regulation. According to a Written Answer last Tuesday, the number is 2,594,000. That is rather a lot of people. It helps to explain why the number of people on income support is rising, even though the number of people unemployed is going down. That is a matter to which we may return on another occasion.
I warmly welcome the housing benefit and council tax benefit run-on regulations. I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, into the interstices of the minimum wage, save only to draw to the Minister's attention the report in yesterday's Independent on Sunday that the state is now spending on in-work benefits to subsidise low wages £2.9 billion every year. I should be glad of a comment on the accuracy or otherwise of that figure.
With regard to Regulation 5 on carers and availability, I agree with everything said by my noble friends Lady Seear and Lady Williams of Crosby. I point out that the 48 hours covers days of non-availability, such as Sunday. One cannot normally ring up a nursery on a Sunday. I thought that that provision was a little unnecessary and could perhaps have been dispensed with.
I want to raise a point of interpretation on Regulation 11 about part-time students. There is an obligation on a part-time student to rearrange his course in order to adjust his availability, if necessary. Is there a parallel obligation on the teacher of the course to accept the rearrangement? It is a question in which I should declare an interest. If there is not, it puts the claimant in an intolerable position between the upper and the nether millstone; and if there is an obligation on the teacher, with many different people in the class it may be that there will be no time at all when the classes can be held. We need communication between the two departments on that point, and indeed on many others.
Regulation 13(2) allows an exemption to availability regulations for "a sincerely held religious belief". Who is to decide whether a religious belief is sincerely held? It is not an area in which the competence of the state is immediately obvious to me. Were the right reverend Prelate still in the Chamber I should be interested to hear his comments on that regulation. Also, such an exception for sincerely held religious belief is allowed provided the claimant can show real prospects of employment. I am reminded of the speech in the debate on the Address in the Session before last made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. He drew attention to the danger that Sunday working, especially in the retail trade, might become so normal that someone with a conscientious objection to it might not have a
Regulations 16 and 9 raise the conflict to which my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby referred. My understanding--I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--is that there is flexibility within the period of six months. I am interested in the flexibility provided by Regulation 16. It is an example of Rentonian principles of drafting in regulation, which is a rare swallow that I welcome. I hope that it may make a summer. But I should like to know whether the interpretation will be made by the discretion of the adjudication officer or whether it will all be covered in guidance.
Regulation 14, as I understand it, deals with male carers caring for children during a spouse's absence from the country for a period not over eight weeks. If I have understood that aright, it is not applied on a sex-blind basis. A woman may be exempt from availability regulations if she is caring for a child. But if a man may be exempt only when caring for a child during that period of eight weeks, that is not on a level basis. We know that 9 per cent. of single parents are male. Their rights need attention and the drafting of that regulation needs attention.
Like other people, I have some doubts about Regulation 18(4). It covers steps for seeking work which may be disregarded if the claimant is guilty of violent or abusive behaviour. There is no dispute about the objective of that regulation. But "abusive behaviour", especially for someone who knows that hope deferred maketh the heart grow sick, presents a difficulty.
Let me put to the Minister a case which happened at my local Jobcentre. Can he say whether this is abusive behaviour within the meaning of the proverbial Act? A woman, late on a Friday afternoon, was attempting to obtain benefit. She was told that she could not obtain anything until after the weekend. She dumped her baby on the counter and said, "All right, you feed him then" and ran out of the door. Mother and baby were subsequently reunited but, meanwhile, the Jobcentre staff had fed the baby over the weekend. Was that woman guilty of abusive behaviour or not? It is perhaps a case where the prerogative of mercy might have been relevant.
On behaviour or appearance I agree strongly with the points made by my noble friend Lady Seear. I have heard it said that in the Old Bailey the surest way to be disqualified as a juror is to turn up wearing a pinstriped suit with a rolled umbrella and carrying a copy of the Daily Telegraph. Dress codes are appropriate to specific contexts. We have all misjudged the dress code in contexts with which we are not familiar. That is why I should have liked the regulation to have a provision for mens rea; dress codes in order to make themselves less suitable for employment. It would of course make proof more difficult, but that is simply the real world.
Regulation 63 provides for a 40 per cent. reduction in benefit for those refusing training. It does not include the words for which my noble friend Lady Seear has asked over and over again; that is, "suitable training". It raises the prospect of a case like the one once raised by the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, of the young man who asked to work with animals and was sent to work in an abattoir. Would that person be subjected to a 40 per cent. reduction in benefit?
The other point on which I cannot resist commenting in relation to the 40 per cent. reduction for refusing training is that I am most intrigued to find Mr. Gordon Brown writing government policy. That truly is a resurrection of Butskellism.
Regulation 72, the good cause provision, is better than we thought it might be during the passage of the Bill. I owe a great deal of thanks to both Ministers and to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who is especially responsible for that clause. The good cause provisions specify that good causes for refusing or leaving a job "shall include" the ones specified. That means that they allow for the possibility that there may be other good causes.
I am delighted to see the provisions allowing people to refuse a job if the cost of travelling to work or the job expenses are too high. That is valuable. I am also delighted to see that one is not to be forced to take a job paying commission only. That again was a concession made in the course of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and I am delighted it has been included. It is not a big concession, but it is a great deal better than nothing and I am pleased about it.
Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan;
Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,
Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham".
The applicable amount for 16 and 17 year-olds who receive income support is £28.85 a week. That is derisory. I want to know why, when severe hardship payments are allowed, the 40 per cent. reduction applies equally to 16 and 17 year-olds even though the amount being reduced is itself smaller. That is a subsistence payment. It is a hardship payment. The Government's justifications of the distinction between the older and the younger rates of benefit simply do not apply to a hardship payment. They had better think of a new one quickly and I shall be interested to see whether they have done so before the Minister sits down.
Regulation 95(2) on royalty income needs rewriting. In relation to Regulation 140 I have asked the Minister before why it is government policy that the single cannot suffer hardship. I hope that this time we may receive an answer.
There are genuinely small mercies in these regulations. I thank the Minister for them. But they are small mercies and I hope the Minister will understand that the fact that I have not made the Second Reading speech the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, expected, does not mean that I have in any way retreated from the points I would have made. I still think them, though I have not bothered to make them at the moment.
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