Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am so sorry; obviously I gave an incomplete explanation. Had we not had some existing pilots running, there would have been one set of regulations covering all of the areas for 12 months, and we would have come back in 12 months' time to renew the regulations for a further 12 months. Because some of the areas that we want to go into are currently running some pilots that will not expire for a further three months, we need to break the range of pilots into a two-stage process over the course of this year. Both will be renewed, all being well, the following year, should Parliament agree.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I was going to say that I understand that, but actually I do not. I looked at the explanation that was given in another place when this matter was debated. It seems to me that the purpose of the 12-month rule is to prevent the regulations being extended beyond 12 months. However, to do two lots of 12 months at the same time seems to me to get round that arrangement. My understanding is that the first regulations that we are discussing cover one 12-month period, and then the other covers a further 12-month period. Fine, I will need to think and read carefully what the Minister has just said, and if need be I will come back to her on that point.

I am not unsympathetic to the idea of encouraging people to work longer, but my second point is that one is encouraging them by imposing sanctions. Also, the pilot will be carried out in what the noble Baroness described as a random manner. I am somewhat doubtful—no doubt the noble Baroness has taken legal advice—as to whether random imposition of sanctions is compatible with the ECHR. Perhaps we need to consider that point.

18 Mar 2004 : Column 375

More generally, in the light of the previous debate, I have some doubts about the efficiency of the whole series of pilots. In the previous debate, the noble Baroness sought to offload the responsibility on to the Department for Education and Skills.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: No, my Lords, I was merely responding to the noble Lord's inquiry as to why we had failed to produce robust pilots within the Department for Work and Pensions. I said that it was not the responsibility of our department. I should not want to be seen to be casting aspersions on any other department.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, it is very difficult to interpret the remarks of the noble Baroness other than as saying that the previous pilot introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions did not work. It is important that we get the technical aspects of these pilots right, because the previous pilot clearly wasted a lot of government time and money because it was not properly designed. We must hope that this pilot will be better designed. I imagine that the Government are using consultants for these pilots. Can she confirm that the consultants employed on the pilot we are now discussing are not the same as those who failed to act efficiently at the Department for Education and Skills?

More generally, on the substance of the matter, some independent research was carried out four years into the scheme that concluded that few clients progressed to take up specific 25 Plus opportunities—that is to say, subsidised employment or full-time education or training. Nor did many progress to follow-through. Most participants left the 25 Plus scheme at the initial advisory stage and a majority simply returned to JSA, which does not suggest that the system overall is working well.

Apparently, there were 360,000 starts in the pre-April New Deal 25 Plus programme, but only about 17 per cent entered unsubsidised jobs. With regard to the enhanced New Deal for Young People and Long-Term Unemployed People aged 25 Plus to the end of December 2003, only 24 per cent entered unsubsidised jobs, which raises the question whether those schemes are working cost-effectively. In particular, what do they cost compared with the cost of those individuals being on benefits?

As has already been said, we are up against time, but I hope that the noble Baroness can cover those points. I shall seek to work out her explanation of why we need two orders.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the order. As I read it, I was reminded of a meeting I attended about two years ago. I went to see the work of an employment agency in the East End of London called Wise Owls. It is an employment agency for people aged 45 and over. I listened as the man who runs that small organisation talked with great passion and conviction about its work. He firmly said three things.

18 Mar 2004 : Column 376

The first was that the biggest hurdle of all that the people who came to him looking for employment had to get over was to get employers to see them. Once they did, their chances of getting a job were good, but their chances of getting employers to see them were low.

His second point was that he was adamant in his belief that training was not what was needed and that it was insulting and demeaning to many people to assume that the reason that they could not get a job was because they needed training. He made the valid point that many people who were being asked to go on computer skills training courses were the people who, for the previous 20 years, had written and developed the programmes to which they were being sent. Training was not a problem, the problem was simple ageism on the part of employers.

The third thing that he said was that it does not matter how much legislation one puts in place to overcome discrimination, it will never work until there is an economic driver to do so. The moment that there is a skills shortage, ageist assumptions will disappear.

As I thought about that and read the order, one particular matter came to my mind. Is the order or is it not another example of ageism in legislation? As I read it, it was not clear to me to what extent the order has been changed to meet the needs of people aged 50 to 59 and to what extent there has been a simple read-across from programmes for people of a younger age group. Young people may well need entirely different support to help them cope with unemployment.

The noble Baroness talked at length about personal support, self-employment support and motivational skills support but, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said, citing the report, people who had been in senior positions in work were being offered employment opportunities and training that they found simply demeaning. When the pilot is evaluated, will the evaluation be confined to the number of people who find themselves in work or will it tell us about the types of employment that people find? Frankly, I can understand that someone who has held a senior level of employment who is asked to work at McDonald's may well consider that more of an addition to his problems than a solution.

I, too, want to focus on the question of sanctions. Does the noble Baroness believe that sanctions will work in the same way for this age group as they do for a much younger age group? Does the department consider that someone who is 54 years old and has some savings in the bank will feel the same about the same level of sanctions as someone who is 23 and has nothing?

I also want to know whether the health-related needs of some people in that age group have been taken into account; whether the department has considered the huge contribution that men and women in that age group make towards caring, and the effect of that. People in that age group care for both very elderly relatives and children.

Finally, I must tell the noble Baroness that I wonder whether the total effect of the orders will be that we knock back people who are already feeling vulnerable

18 Mar 2004 : Column 377

because of their age and impose sanctions on them when there are no such sanctions against employers who were ageist in their recruitment.

2.15 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, again, I am grateful to noble Lords. First, I shall turn to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins. In our debate on the previous regulation, I should have said that I appreciate the thoughtful and informed tone and contributions of opposition Members, because, if I may be so impertinent as to say so, they are asking exactly the sort of questions that we as a society need to ensure that we address in the right way.

Let me have yet another go at explaining why there are two sets of regulations. The reason that there are two sets of regulations before us today is not that they run for a year and then another year; it is because we cannot do the whole bundle at once. The reason that we cannot do the whole bundle at once for the first year, as we would otherwise, is that some of the areas currently have other pilots under way that would contaminate the results.

We must therefore have one set and, three months or so later, the second set. In an ideal world, spring cleaned with no other pilots, there would be one set of pilots and one regulation. Then we will come back in a year's time—as the noble Lord rightly said, pilots run for one year—to renew the regulations for both sets of territories: those contaminated, in statistical terms, by existing pilots and those that were not. Subject to parliamentary approval, we will seek to roll them both forward for another year. That is the explanation.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, now I think I understand it. But there is a 12-month rule that says that the order should not run for more than 12 months. I thought that the Government were proposing to break the rule by having a cap of 24 months. No, apparently they are breaking the 12-month rule by running it for 15 months.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page