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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, if these regulations were welcomed, I thank noble Lords for their welcome. However, I suspect that the responses were slightly more ambivalent. I may be able to help the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, with some of the specific points that he raised. On his first point about partners, I agree that the wording is not the most felicitous. It states simply that it applies to partners if the claimant is receiving an additional increase in benefit by virtue of having a partner. It is a truism, but it is for the purpose of clarification. There may be truth in truisms occasionally.
On the definition of a partner, we go to the classic debates that we have had on many previous Bills. A partner is a member of the same couple as the claimant or, in the case where the claimant has more than one partner, a partner by reason of a polygamous marriage and so forth. A couple is defined by reference to the definitions of married couple and unmarried couple in Part 7 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act. A married couple are a man and a woman who are married together and are members of the same household. Unmarried couple means a man and a woman who are not married to each other but who are living together as husband and wife. In the past we have discussed what that includes: they share a common financial budget, they share a household, there is a presumption that they have children together and so on. That is a partner.
The noble Lord then asked about several interviews. Someone can be in receipt of several benefits but only one work-focused interview is required, not one interview per benefit. For example, someone may have carer's allowance and that would be topped up by income support. They would not have an interview for
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was quite right to explain the point about the 10 pence, being to hold a residual benefit in place to allow one to obtain passported benefits like housing benefit, or free prescriptions and so on. It is a decency insurance net. The noble Earl's second point was to suggest that, though this might be a good thing and was well-intended, all the evidence about what has happened to lone parents suggests that it is not a particularly effective way to proceed.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, will accept my explanation and allow me to get on to the substantive point. I have said I agree that some of the language is less than felicitous. I do not know how much more he expects me to say on that. I will go on to the substantive point as I am sure that your Lordships know we have other regulations that we need to explore in a moment.
I do not agree with the assessment of the efficacy of the process that we set in train when we introduced work-focused interviews for lone parents. Since they were introduced work-focused interviews have led to a 36 per cent increase in the number of lone parents joining the New Deal, which is voluntary. The New Deal, associated
Sometimes a lone parent may take several occasions to come in to the labour market, just as other young people may do. It depends entirely on the social and educational capitalthe work skillsthat the lone parent brings into the labour market. I challenge the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and say that it is not the work-focused interview alone, it is what the work-focused interview has led on to joining the New Deal, going into work, acquiring education and training, very often getting, as a result, eligibility for tax credits, enjoying a significantly higher income and springboarding their children out of poverty. If a lone parent goes into work the risk of poverty for their children falls by 75 per cent. That is a striking statistic. These results are a package but all the evidence is that the first step, to bring, sometimes reluctant, people to an interview can open doors and open windows that would otherwise be closed, particularly in areas where there is a low history of work and a high level of social exclusion.
I now turn to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He says that it is not the business of the state to determine how people juggle work and childcare. I agree with that, but it is the case that if both partners, the claimant and the partner, are both unemployed and they have children it is not unreasonable to assume that between them they can manage the childcare without specifying the gender. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, will know that if a couple have children then between them they need only work 30 hours to get the full benefit of the tax credit system, which is very substantial indeed. One partner could work 16 hours, one could work 12 and thus manage the childcare even if they did not seek childcare payments through the tax credit system. It is sensitive and sensible in respect of childcare.
Secondly the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about carers. I was slightly concerned because I have not seen the material that he mentioned but I have been able to get some additional material for him that may be helpful. It was the case that earlier we carried out a written consultation exercise, contacting 34 organisations of which 11 responded. Concerns were raised but Carers UK responded to the consultation on these draft regulations and did not raise concerns regarding the
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, then made a point about Bangladeshi women. I take that point, which I thought was sensitive, but it remains the case that some 3 per cent of all children are the children of Bangladeshi/Pakistani parents and 8 per cent of all poor children are the children of Bangladeshi/Pakistani parents. One of the major reasons for that is that 73 per cent of partnered white women are in work and only about 23 to 26 per cent of Bangladeshi/Pakistani partnered women are in work.
If there is a single explanation for child povertyit is almost a predictor of deprivation for children, which is so bad for them and for our societyit concerns their distance from the labour market. When looking at India or Africa, who does one seek to help into the labour market? To whom do you give education? One gives it to women. If the women come into work not only does the family have a second income, but that also brings education into the family and the language and aspirations of the children are lifted. I hope that the noble Earl would extrapolate that into the situation of some of our poorest ethnic minority families whose children, although bright and able, are simply not being mainstreamed as we would wish them to be.
The final point of the noble Earl concerned benefit sanctionsa benefit sanction of about £10. If a couple are on JSA with two children they would have an income of about £250 and we are talking of a sanction of about 4 to 5 per cent. The noble Earl asks what happens to their health. Most sanctions can be alleviated quite quickly if someone meets the terms or the requirements of the condition and goes for the interview or actively seeks work. We could not do what the noble Lord asks. He knows, as a distinguished professional in the field of research, that one cannot test for something unless one has a base line from which to start. Unless one has analysed the health and wellbeing of everyone who is a claimant and tried to work out the impact of two, or three, or four weeks' of benefit sanction that cannot be done.
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