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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: If I may begin with that last point, I am very happy to give that assurance. I will not deal with the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as he is not in his place at the moment; but my noble friend Lady Turner raised this matter in terms of whether a lone parent, for example, should be expected to work if there is a child under five, or even to go to an interview at all, on the assumption that anyone with a child under five would not want to work and should not come for an interview.

Under the new deal for lone parents, I have been startled to find that nearly a third of those seeking to come on to the new deal have children under five. I think we accept too easily and too freely the assumptions, often of a different generation, of what women themselves say that they want. Our intention with these interviews, as the noble Earl said, is to empower people who are the best judges of what they should do to make that judgment in an informed way, if they are lone parents or have a disability. Lone parents were telling me, even those with children under five, that they did not see that going into work was an inferior way of bringing up children; they actually thought it was the best way of bringing up their children, providing that the hours and the pay were right and that childcare was available.

As my noble friend has explained, this amendment is intended to ensure that the provisions in Clause 52 cannot be used to force benefit claimants to take up employment against their will. I can assure her that no such intention lies behind the taking of this path. The Government have made their position very clear, both in the other place and in this Chamber. We wish to introduce into the benefits system a requirement that clients of working age take part in the "one" interviews. We are not introducing into this clause any further conditions. We do want people to attend the interviews, to talk about the barriers that stand in their way and to discuss the help and opportunities that are available to them. They will then be free to decide for themselves whether to take up those opportunities. It will be a matter of choice, but it will be informed choice. So I am happy, as I have said, to reassure my noble friend. I hope that as a result she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Turner of Camden: I thank my noble friend for the assurances she has given this afternoon. I am very glad that they will be in Hansard and that we shall be able to look at them again. However, I still wonder, since that is so, why there would be any objection at all to including my wording, or something very similar to it, on the face of the Bill. As I said

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earlier, people can feel intimidated by a requirement to attend for interview. I have evidence of that, as I am often approached by women seeking advice on these matters. If that is the case, I do not see why there should not be a provision on the face of the Bill stating positively that if a person turns down an offer of employment, that does not, of itself, disqualify the claimant from benefit. However, in view of the noble Baroness's response, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, although I may return to the matter on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 100 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 101:

Page 59, line 26, leave out paragraph (d)

The noble Baroness said: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 101, and respectfully suggest that it might make a great deal of sense to speak next to Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 together.

Amendment No. 101 relates specifically to widows and widows' bereavement benefits falling within Sections 21E and 21EA of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act. This amendment is important. We do not believe it appropriate to engage people in the gateway process and encourage them to find work in certain circumstances. This matter has been discussed; however, it is important to make reference to bereavement benefits.

We are concerned that in certain circumstances, at a very difficult time, people should not be forced to take part in a "one" in order to receive benefit. Although there are to be exceptions to compulsion, we believe that regulations regarding those exceptions should be carefully crafted to protect those who may, for example, be suffering considerable, albeit invisible, mental distress.

We also question the skills of the personal advisers and the extent of their training to deal with such cases. In addition, account should be taken of widows with dependent children. It is fair to say that women, particularly those who make what is often a difficult choice to stop work in order to care for their children, lose considerable confidence when they do so. They need an enormous amount of support to face the world of work again; and they will be doing so without their spouse to support them and help them to regain that confidence. I can speak from personal experience. When I stopped work to have my three children, I found that my confidence in the workplace was considerably reduced. It has taken some time to find it again.

Further, we believe that we should respect the fact that many widows, and indeed widowers, will possibly have spent many months, even years, caring for their partners and are simply not in the physical and mental good health that is necessary to seek work. The Bill includes an exemption for those with "good cause". We ask: who is the arbiter of that cause? Again, the personal carers will have an enormous responsibility placed upon them. There is also a question as to whether they will be able to understand people's sensitivities. We heard

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earlier from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that some interviewers are simply not sensitive. We must confront that fact. People are human, and some have failings in that sense. So we are asking for reassurance, if the Minister is not minded to accept the amendment, that as part of the training for personal advisers considerable regard is paid to the very sensitive period that widows and those in receipt of bereavement benefits go through. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Perhaps the noble Baroness can help me. I understood from her introductory remarks that she intended to group all three amendments together.

Baroness Buscombe: I should like to speak to the next two amendments together.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: So this amendment is separate and the next two will be taken together. I misunderstood the noble Baroness.

Amendment No. 101 seeks to exclude widows and widowers from the requirement to participate in a work-focused interview. I have every sympathy with the intention that those who have recently experienced bereavement should be treated with respect, consideration and sensitivity. I do not believe that excluding people from the "one" service is the right way to do it.

The noble Baroness will recall that when we discussed widows' benefits the other evening, I tried to make the point that many widows or widowers are already in work when their spouse becomes ill; they become carers, possibly for only a fortnight, for a month, or for two or three years; and although they want to return to work, they may need help to do so. Others will move back into work very speedily. As I said, in that case, women often find it easier to return to work than do men. Others, particularly those who find themselves with childcare responsibilities, will want to stay in touch with the possibilities and to explore what they might do in future. The "one" service will enable them to do so, by providing each individual with a personal adviser who will help them to gain access to the help and support that is available to them. Personal advisers will receive guidance and training to help them to relate to clients in an appropriate and sensitive way. An immediate interview is not necessarily appropriate, in which case personal advisers will be able to defer the requirement and pay the benefit as soon as possible. I hope that, with those assurances, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for that explanation. I listened with great care to the recent debate on the question of widow's bereavement benefit. It is important to stress the difference between many women of our generation who are in the world of work today and, in contrast, women of my mother's generation, were she to be alive today; namely, women in their 70s and 80s. There are many women who, although they are still of working age, are not used to working or have become unused to it. We believe that

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enormous sensitivity should apply in such cases. I hear what the Minister says in terms of the training of personal advisers and her reassurance that sensitivity will be an important part of that training. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 102:

Page 59, line 29, leave out paragraph (e)

The noble Baroness said: As I suggested, it would make sense to speak to Amendments Nos. 102 and 103 together. I shall be brief. Much of what I had intended to say has already been covered in considerable discussion. However, I make no apology for repeating that, although we and the disability organisations believe that engaging disabled people in the gateway and encouraging them to find work is important and right, it is also crucial to ensure that genuinely disabled people are not pushed into situations and interviews for which they are not well enough.

In that regard, particular reference must be made to those who feel almost an innate sense of fear in terms of the compulsion to attend a "work-focused" interview rather than, as I have previously suggested, a "personal development" interview, because they feel that they will not be capable of responding properly to that interview.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, gave some straightforward and moving examples, with particular reference to his daughter, as to why the whole interview process should not be compulsory for certain people.

I support the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who again and again has pushed for the removal of any words that express compulsion in relation to the work-focused interview for those in receipt of incapacity benefit and severe disablement allowance. We do not believe that that is a positive way forward. Many disabled people want to work, and they should be encouraged to have work-focused interviews. However, there are those for whom this proposal is unrealistic. If the interview is compulsory, fine: the person will turn up for the interview or it will take place in the home. But in the end how much will be gained from making those interviews compulsory? Those who want to work and seek information can do so by choice. We very much hope that through that process they will be guided in the right direction, supported and will find work, which is laudable. However, we suggest that for those who are incapable of work and do not want to attend an interview compulsion will not take the process any further, in which case the whole cost of the process will not justify making it compulsory. If it is optional most people will take it up, but there is a significant group of people who will not do so. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: I offer my support for this group of amendments. If I do not explain why it is only because I would be repeating either what I or the noble Baroness have said, or both.

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