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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it is always difficult to be totally theoretical. If someone is seriously looking for a job of course the adjudication officer will take that seriously into account. However, if someone says, "I am seriously looking for a job" but she goes for a job where appearance is important, such as working in the food industry--I made this point at length during debates on the Bill--and says to the employer, "No, I refuse to take off my earrings", I suggest that she would not properly be looking for a job. There are many parts of the food industry in which all employees must remove rings, watches, earrings and so forth because no one would like to find those items in a prepared meal. Producers can be taken to court by a customer who finds such odd objects. Many people in the food industry in particular have become very wary about the new rules and regulations concerning food hygiene. It is difficult for me, standing at the Dispatch Box, to say that in some hypothetical cases it will not matter but in others it will. There will be many cases in which as regards doing the job a person's appearance will not matter but in many other cases appearance will matter. One would not like to see someone with extremely dirty hands and clothes serving one's morning rolls, for example.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen asked a number of questions about disability, a subject in which he is greatly interested. He asked me why disability is not listed in Regulation 28 as regards failure to attend a
Claiming incapacity benefit represents a significantly better buy for the claimant with a mental condition than does a JSA hardship payment because IB is paid at a higher rate. In most cases, an award for IB can be made at once upon receipt of a declaration for incapacity without a need to take appropriate incapacity tests immediately. Even where the claimant has recently been found capable for work and transferred from IB, IB can still be awarded if the condition has deteriorated or the claimant declares a different condition. Given the extensive safety net in IB for mental health conditions, we cannot envisage situations in which a person unable to qualify for IB will be seen as vulnerable for hardship purposes. There is therefore no reason to subject them to the lengthy and detailed JSA hardship procedures.
As regards the 26 weeks, that is continuous. The chronic condition must last or be likely to last for 26 weeks. However, that does not preclude the possibility that the symptoms may fluctuate in their intensity during that period. Thus, someone with arthritis need not necessarily be excluded. The decision as to the chronic nature of the condition will be made by the adjudication officer on the basis of the evidence available and would therefore be subject to appeal.
Dealing with Regulations 28 and 30, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked why people should lose benefit if they failed to attend a Jobcentre because they were ill or looking after a person who was ill. A person who is ill cannot be available for work and therefore is not entitled to JSA. It is right that in Regulation 28 we should not make provision for good cause for not attending. If the jobseeker is temporarily sick or is looking after a sick person he will be treated as available and therefore will be regarded as having good cause for failing to attend the Jobcentre. I hope that the good cause point will help to answer the worries expressed by the noble Baroness.
As regards Part VII, the noble Earl asked who would carry out the up-rating. I do not know whether my answer will add to his confidence, but I can tell him that the up-rating will be done by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security and his ever wise Ministers.
In the case of a person carrying out voluntary work of the kind she has in mind, the notional earnings provision does not apply provided that the adjudication officer is satisfied that it is reasonable for the service to be carried out free of charge. I believe that I can put the noble Baroness's mind at ease and reassure her that a person merely acting as a good neighbour will not be penalised by the notional earnings rule.
I have spoken for 22 minutes and I believe that I have answered most of the points that were raised. If I have missed any I shall be happy to write to noble Lords. If noble Lords feel that a point has not been properly answered no doubt they will write to me. I am sure that I do not need to encourage them to do that--
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I apologise for interrupting again. I wish to draw his attention to Schedule 7, relating to the disregards for war widows, war disability, war pensions and so forth. He may not wish to reply now, but I wish to urge him to consider the very modest disregard in these crucial areas of pension.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, from the Dispatch Box I have answered the point in a wider sphere on a number of occasions. The disregard for war widows is considerably better than £10 because the £49.50, which I believe is the post-1973 payment, is also disregarded. As regards war disabled pensions, many additional payments which a severely disabled person can receive are also disregarded.
In the general case of disregards, my view and that of the Government is that the pensions which come from public funds are to help people with their day-to-day living expenses, as are all the benefits. It is not justified to allow one group which already receives significantly higher benefits in addition to receive a disregard. That is doing them a double favour. Those in other groups receiving widow's benefit, incapacity benefit and so forth could easily ask, "Why, if they receive a generous disregard, should we not receive it?". That begins to open up considerable sums of money to the benefits bill.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, made a more general speech about the regulations. A number of her points related to unemployment and to whether employment was available. We in this country are doing a good deal better than most of our competitors. As I said in my original speech, half the people who become unemployed find work again within three months, while two-thirds of them find work again within six months. A comparison with all the major industrialised countries--certainly all the major European countries--shows that we are up towards the top as regards the number of our people in employment. In fact, our unemployment rate is now better than that of the four "biggies" (if I may call them that); in other words, it is better than our big friends in the European Union--namely, Spain, Italy, France and Germany.
Indeed, not only is our unemployment rate better in general, but our youth unemployment rate is better and our unemployment among women is better. Moreover, in comparison with the EU as a whole, our long-term unemployment rate is better. Therefore, I shall not take any lessons from the noble Baroness who would impose a minimum wage and a social chapter on employment opportunities in this country and, perhaps, push our 8.2 per cent. current unemployment rate up to the levels of France with 11.4 per cent. and Spain with 22.6 per cent.