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Baroness Seear: My Lords, the noble Lord knows better than anybody that NVQs are concerned with competence on the job. They are tested only by competence on the job. That being so, there is no question of training outside. It is training on the job.
Lord Henley: My Lords, if training is appropriate, it can be pursued through training for work. That is the purpose behind training for work. We are talking here about an element of work experience. If we are to provide work experience, it is right that it should be work experience that is appropriate for those who are likely to benefit from it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, stressed the importance of having the right providers of work experience. The noble Baroness went on to ask whether voluntary organisations and others could provide that experience. All that I can say at the moment is that we can now announce that we have selected the major providers of the project work placements in the two areas. The activities to be provided range from conservation and environmental work, to retail administration, to--I believe that this will please my noble kinsman--historical research. The providers are charitable and educational bodies and private sector trusts. They have only recently been informed of their success in the bidding process. Until the bidding process is completed, we would prefer not to give precise details such as the names of those organisations. However, I assure the House that I shall be more than happy to provide that information as soon as practicable and to give further details of exactly what--in addition to historical research--is to be provided.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I was not going to ask about the historical research, but that is good news. If this proves an appropriate way forward, will the Minister learn from the project experience that a placement with a voluntary organisation should also be regarded as an approved, appropriate and positive outcome from a JSA interview?
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Baroness is more than aware that this is a pilot. The aim of having a pilot scheme is to learn something from it. Obviously, in advance of the evaluation and assessment of the pilot, I cannot give any assurances as to what we shall learn, but we shall no doubt learn some interesting things. Indeed, what the noble Baroness is suggesting might be one such thing. In due course I shall give the noble Baroness further details of exactly who has been selected. Where possible, I shall also try to give further details of what is being proposed.
The noble Baroness also asked whether individuals with health problems, particularly those in the older group within this cohort, if I can use a modern word, would be affected. I should start by saying that we selected the group--those aged 18 to 50--with some view of excluding those who might be more likely to suffer the problems which the noble Baroness specified. However, I assure the noble Baroness that the regulations specify that an individual will have "good cause" not to participate if participation is likely to endanger his or her health. I think that that deals with the particular problems which the noble Baroness raises. I cannot give a guarantee that anyone who had been in receipt of invalidity benefit in the past or who had received a number of points towards incapacity benefit would automatically be covered, but the "good cause" provisions allow non-participation if participation is likely to endanger health.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way again. I am sure that he is trying to be helpful and I am sure that we both want to reach the same position on this. However, will he clarify what he means by "endanger health"? It is clear from the regulations that any job placement which worsens or aggravates an existing condition would be held to endanger a person's health--or health and safety, according to the set of regulations being considered. I am concerned about somebody with a mild but chronic disability, perhaps associated with back or mental health problems. A person might suffer persistent pain and fatigue, for example. For such a person, the work placement might be uncomfortable but would not necessarily endanger health in the sense of worsening it. Can the Minister help us on this?
Lord Henley: My Lords, it will obviously be a question of fact and degree in every individual case. I should not like to take the noble Baroness any further other than to say that decisions on what is likely to endanger health will be adjudicated on by the independent adjudication officer. If the placement was held to endanger health, the person concerned would have "good cause", but that must be a question--
Perhaps I may move on to a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about passported benefits. That is important in terms of potential disincentives to participation. I can give the House an assurance that passported benefits will not be affected in any way whatsoever.
The noble Baroness suggested that the pilot removes provision from other areas. She particularly mentioned community action. People outside the area of a pilot scheme are not losing out. We are offering them the most appropriate help in the current economic circumstances. I refer to a wide range of programmes focusing on job search and on removing the barriers into real work. In a very difficult public expenditure round we have maintained the number of opportunities for unemployed people at the same level as last year.
With regard to community action, I accept that that was a useful and successful programme, but it no longer represents the best value for money for the taxpayer as part of our current strategy for tackling longer-term unemployment in what I believe--the noble Baroness should accept this--is a much more buoyant labour market than in the past.
I move now to the question of evaluation and assessment, which is of considerable importance. It is important to know whether a pilot scheme has been a success. I assure the House that the pilot schemes will be fully evaluated both by the work of the internal researchers in the Employment Service and by outside bodies under contract. The number of people moving into jobs will be a major focus of that evaluation. That will be something that will inform our judgments as to how well the two pilot schemes have worked.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about sanctions, what would happen after them, and the general purpose behind them. The sanctions are there, as on other occasions, to protect the taxpayer from having to subsidise people who have no good reason to remain unemployed. They exist to influence the behaviour of people who are claiming benefit, and they have an important role in reinforcing incentives for unemployed people to take the right steps to get back into work.
We do not expect a healthy adult to suffer any significant change in his or her health during a two-week benefit exclusion. Benefits will be available to vulnerable groups to prevent hardship. But after the sanction period people will be referred again to project work. That process will be repeated again and again until they have completed their 13 weeks of project work. Obviously the evaluation will include an examination of those people as they leave the pilot, and an examination of those who are sanctioned and what they do and where they go. I hope that that will tell us much not only about the project itself but about the sanctions and their effectiveness.
I move on to the hardship rules. Under income support those who are sanctioned will be able to apply for hardship payments under the existing rules: 20 per cent. or 40 per cent. depending on the circumstances. Under JSA those who are vulnerable--for instance, those who are ill or who have children--can apply for hardship payments. That is in line with the
We believe that these regulations are an essential component of an exciting and genuinely radical programme--a programme which offers real hope to unemployed people. Certainly, those people who do not want to be helped into jobs may find the process uncomfortable. But our responsibility is to unemployed people and the taxpayer, not to the freeloaders.
We recognise that there is a degree of complexity in this approach. That is why we want to test it thoroughly. We could have introduced it on a national basis--which the noble Baroness herself rejected--with a simple amendment to the JSA regulations. We choose instead to use the pilot powers to monitor and evaluate the scheme, which on a national basis could cost a great deal in the short term. I commend the regulations to the House.