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I reassure noble Lords that we are not closing off the possibility of extending the duty in the way in which the amendment proposes. The proposed power in proposed new subsection 4B(6) would give the Secretary of State the flexibility to change by order, subject to approval by Parliament, the age bracket to which the duty applies. In the future, it may be, for example, that our policies pre- and post-19 are so successful that the current skills gap closes. Then we may wish to refocus resources towards a different age group that had been identified as being in greater need of additional support. We are not, therefore, closing down the avenue that the amendment explores. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I am very grateful indeed for the comments that have been made, and even for the doubts that one or two noble Lords who have spoken had about the amendment. I am particularly grateful for the detailed way in which the Minister replied.

I admit that, if I were looking at this issue from just the point of view of the education budget, I would see at least some of the Minister’s points. But one needs to think, as was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that there are health reasons, including mental health and keeping people alive and out of hospital, that might very well contribute more to the national well-being as far as budgets are concerned.

On behalf of my noble friend Lord Dearing I thank the Minister very much. I know that my noble friend will be most grateful for what she has said, particularly on flexibility that there may be—if things improve—for a different age level. For the moment, I will withdraw

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the amendment, read very carefully what has been said and decide what to do at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote moved Amendment No. 210A:

“( ) a specified vocational qualification at level 1,”

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 211A. Both amendments are in the names of my noble friend Lord Dearing and myself. We very much welcome the provision that has been made in the Bill for those without level 1 skills in English and maths to receive free tuition, but the amendment is designed to give those aiming for a level 1 qualification the same right to free tuition as the Bill gives to those aiming for a level 2 qualification. This means that in addition to a free course in English and maths provided for in the Bill, there would be an additional right to three vocational qualifications at level 1—the equivalent to GCSE passes in grades D to G.

The people whom we are talking about are the most vulnerable to unemployment as unskilled jobs disappear over the next decade. They are also likely to be the lowest-paid workers and least able to afford any fees. In view of their experience at school, which may not have been beneficial for them, and which may not have been entirely their own fault, they are the people who find it most difficult to get back into the education system. They need incentives, not barriers.

Empowering them to earn a decent living is surely the best way of meeting the Government’s commitment to ending child poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and others have touched on the cycle of deprivation. Improving the attitude of these people to education through coming back into it after failing at school is surely an excellent way of enabling and encouraging them to support their children in learning. I have seen excellent examples of that in Sure Start schemes. It is remarkable how a parent who has been absolutely terrified of their schooling can come back into a primary school and start to do courses on their own and, perhaps, with their children. They change their whole attitude to the school. I am sure we would all agree that action to improve the life chances of these people is certainly needed to promote social harmony. We need to be alert to the high proportion of ethnic minority children in this group, particularly those from the Muslim community.

As an economy, we cannot afford a tail of unskilled and unqualified adults. I quote the speech of the Prime Minister at last year’s Labour Party Conference. He said that,

For their sakes and for all our sakes—especially for the sakes of the children—we must help these people to earn a living in the challenging times that lie ahead. As the Prime Minster said,

I beg to move.

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7.15 pm

Baroness Walmsley: I touched on this issue in discussing the previous amendment. I support the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. For some people, level 1 is the first stepping-stone, and English and maths alone are not enough—they need to have free tuition in two or three other subjects to be equipped to do a job at all. English and maths on their own will not be enough to get them out of the spiral of poverty and deprivation.

Baroness Verma: We support the introduction of vocational subjects at level 1, to be included with level 1 in English and maths. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, said, it is the groups that are the hardest to reach that need to be encouraged. Level 1 in vocational subjects is the right route to assist them to do that, particularly given that, as the noble Baroness eloquently said, we live in fast-moving times and these groups will need those basic skills if we are to be competitive. We wholeheartedly support that.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for moving the amendment and allowing us to have this short debate. It has been especially interesting because it has led me to think more carefully about the difference between the learning process for school-age children and young people and the policy assumptions we make about adult learners. I hope to convince noble Lords that we see a difference in the approach to adult learners which will enable them to leapfrog level 1. We want adult learners to achieve level 2, which we regard as the foundations for employability and so on.

I have great sympathy with the intention behind the amendments. As with the other amendments on level 3, if we had greater resources, we would endeavour to make more courses completely free to learners. However, we need to focus on the priority areas set out in the Bill. I understand noble Lords’ concerns that some learners without the ability to undertake a course for a level 2 qualification might be missing out because they need to move through the various qualification levels. The school-based system of qualifications where children progress from one level of learning to the next does not necessarily fit adults in the same way. Provided that adults have an opportunity to address the basics of literacy and numeracy, they should be able to access a level 2 qualification and skip one or more of the levels. It is precisely because we want to improve the work and life opportunities of adults and their families that we are proposing incentives to undertake qualifications that make people more employable.

I want to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and others who have contributed on the issue of helping unemployed adults or those on a low income. We are committed to supporting learners on low incomes. Those in receipt of means-tested benefits and many on working families’ tax credit do not have to pay course fees. This includes those undertaking level 1 qualifications. People with skills at level 2 or higher are half as likely to be unemployed as those below level 2. There is not the same evidence that individuals achieving level 1 qualifications reap such rich returns, and that is why

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we want to focus on level 2. People can skip directly to level 2. This does not mean that we doubt the importance of other levels of learning, which often provides a valuable progression route into other qualifications and promotes a positive attitude to learning and education. We just do not believe that providing level 1 vocational qualifications free to those without relevant skills is the right use of government funding, as we want to incentivise adults to undertake qualifications from which they stand to gain most. Therefore, again, it is a question of priorities.

It is important that the Committee does not take away the message that the Government do not value entry and re-engagement learning below level 2, which has been a concern of noble Lords. Indeed, we are investing a total of £1.5 billion each year in learning below level 2. Some £210 million of this annual investment will be spent on informal adult learning, which I know is an issue of great interest in this House. We have just finished consulting on how best to use some of these funds to support individual learning and engagement, and will report back in the autumn. I am sure that we will have the opportunity to have a good discussion about it when the House returns. The Learning and Skills Council’s annual statement of priorities, published in November 2007, sets out that in 2008-09 we will support around 380,000 places on foundation learning tier programmes, more than 1.2 million Skills for Life places and around 630,000 places through the adult safeguarded budget. That is more than 2.2 million LSC-funded places on learning below level 2.

Through the creation of the foundation learning tier, we are also rationalising qualifications at entry level and level 1 to ensure that learners who take these courses from age 14 onwards will be gaining valuable qualifications that help them to progress. We also made a commitment in the further education White Paper to extend the level 2 entitlement, over time and as resources allow, so that it can include programmes within the foundation learning tier that support progression through to level 2—the key level—and beyond. Even without that extension, we expect a significant proportion of learners undertaking level 1 qualifications via the foundation learning tier to have their fees remitted in full and thus receive free learning.

As with my previous answer on extending the free entitlement to level 3 courses beyond the age of 25, the Government will continue to monitor progress towards the Leitch ambition very carefully. In future, as I have said before, should we decide that we are in a position to extend the legislative duty to courses below level 2, the proposed order-making power will allow us to do that.

I hope that I have convinced noble Lords that we are committed to funding support for learning below level 2 and that the amendment is not necessary.

Lord Elton: The noble Baroness’s last remark was reassuring because the door is left open for her to do what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, would have her do. However, speaking as someone who is not yet familiar with this range of education, perhaps I may ask her to clarify something for me. Has she been saying that vocational education is not

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based on cumulative learning and that therefore it is not necessary to have level 1 in order to get level 2; or is she saying that it is necessary to have level 1 but that people should find another means of paying for it; or is she saying that it is embedded in a system altogether different from that in the Bill?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I am saying that, provided people have the literacy and numeracy skills to function in normal life, we believe that a level 2 training course is accessible for them and that adults will benefit most in terms of improved job opportunities and life chances by going straight into a level 2 course. A great deal of effort and thought has been put into defining level 2—I am told that it is a question of both height and breadth—and we really do want to incentivise level 2. I suppose that I am trying to have it both ways, because I am also saying that there is funding for people on low incomes and for those on benefits if they choose to do a level 1 course and are unable to pay because of a lack of means. However, in terms of making an entitlement for adult learners, our priority is level 2 because we believe that it is possible for adults to skip a step and to go straight in provided that they have those basic skills.

Lord Lucas: The noble Baroness may not be surprised at my continuing confusion. She said clearly that paragraph 1(c)—

does not include a specified qualification at level 1, but earlier she indicated to me that paragraph 1(a)—

would include an entry-level qualification in literacy. I just do not see how the wording admits of both interpretations.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I was referring to the fact that through Skills for Life and a whole range of initiatives we fund training which is entry-level literacy, so it is not an entitlement in the Bill. I was trying to draw attention to the £1.5 billion that we invest in pre-level 2 skills, which include Skills for Life and the incredible amount of adult literacy work that goes on, but it is not in the entitlement. I shall write to the noble Lord to clarify that and will copy it to others.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I am rather more disappointed by the answer to these amendments than was the case previously. Although I understand—at least, I hope I do—what the noble Baroness is saying about the ability of certain people to go straight in at level 2, I was trying to draw attention to the group that would probably need to have their confidence re-established by level 1 so that they could continue. Perhaps not all those people will be affected, but if it includes those who have very little money but do not have funding made available for these courses—

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I do not wish to interrupt the noble Baroness but I know that in a few minutes we will be going on to the dinner break debate. I wanted to spend a couple of minutes reminding

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noble Lords that when we talk about the investment that the Government are making in learning below level 2, we are talking not only about an annual investment in informal adult learning—about which I know the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has been very concerned—but about 1.2 million Skills for Life places. When we have more leisure, I shall be very happy to send a note to Members of the Committee setting out exactly where that funding goes. I do not wish noble Lords to have the impression that we are not committed to helping people to progress to level 2, as that is the whole point of what we are trying to do. However, that commitment is not entirely encapsulated in the Bill, as an awful lot of work goes on outside this legislation.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I was merely trying to put across that the last thing one wants to hear is that those who are trying to increase their skills for their own sake and for the sake of the whole community are to be further deprived of the ability to do that. Bearing in mind that we have to move on to the dinner hour debate, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to the debate and have kindly supported the amendment. I shall withdraw the amendment but shall definitely have to read carefully what has been said, as will my noble friend Lord Dearing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 211 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendments Nos. 211A to 213 not moved.]

Clause 71 agreed to.

Lord Tunnicliffe: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Royal Assent

7.30 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Appropriation (No. 2) Act,

Finance Act,Sale of Student Loans Act,Special Educational Needs (Information) Act,Statute Law (Repeals) Act,Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act,Health and Social Care Act,Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act,National Insurance Contributions Act, London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act.

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Health: Working-age Population

Lord Low of Dalston asked Her Majesty’s Government how they will respond to the recommendations in Dame Carol Black’s Review of the Health of Britain’s Working Age Population.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have tabled this Question because I want to draw the House’s attention to the review of the health of the working-age population carried out by Dame Carol Black and published in March. The debate could not be more timely in that the review has potential major implications for the whole question of welfare to work, which is very much in the headlines today, through its emphasis on keeping people off welfare by keeping them in work.

The review sets out three main principles: preventing illness and promoting health and well-being; early intervention for those who develop a health condition; and an improvement in the health of those out of work so that everyone with the potential to work has the support that they need to do so. Dame Carol noted that 175 million working days were lost to sickness absence in 2006, and that estimates by the CBI showed that around 43 per cent of these days are attributable to employees on long-term sickness of 20 days or more. The report focuses on the urgent need for improvements in occupational health and vocational rehabilitation services to provide early intervention in cases of ill health and prevent those off work on sickness grounds from the all-too-common drift into worklessness and dependence on benefits.

An example is given of people off work with back pain; 35 per cent generally return to work within two days, 67 per cent within seven days and 84 per cent by the end of four weeks. However, this still leaves 16 per cent who have not returned to work after a month. After around 40 days off work, the likelihood of a person returning to work diminishes rapidly, making early intervention vital if a person is not, after 24 weeks, to make the transition to incapacity benefit.

As many noble Lords will be aware, incapacity benefit will be replaced for new claimants by the employment and support allowance in October. This benefit will require most claimants to take part in work-related activity—training and work experience, for example—as a condition of receiving benefit. This is a welcome change, which will, I hope, see claimants given impairment-specific support—that is, support attuned to the needs of their particular condition—through the pathways to work scheme, to enable them to move towards work. Relating this to what Dame Carol says, both in preventing people from falling out of work due to ill health and supporting those who have left work and are on incapacity benefit, earlier intervention and greater support are needed to achieve better outcomes.

I turn to some of the specific proposals in Dame Carol’s report. She notes that 40 per cent of organisations have no sickness absence management policy at all, and therefore proposes that a national fit-for-work service is needed to ensure that employers, particularly small and medium-sized employers, have adequate occupational health advice. The service would see a dedicated case manager work with employees in the

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early stages of sickness absence to ensure that the right mix of support is put in place for them to manage their condition and remain in, or make a return to, work. Dame Carol proposes that the service should be piloted to test out different models of service delivery, potentially giving private and voluntary sector providers opportunities to deliver services under the NHS. The pilots would then need to be evaluated and rolled out across the country if judged successful.

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