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One measure that is in particular danger of this is the allowance of private sector provision of all programmes to get people back to work. The expertise and dynamism of the volunteer and private sectors must be harnessed properly if we are to see a real transition in the workforce. Half measures will not work. Results must be rewarded fairly. The private sector must be supported properly. Dame Carol Black's report must be taken into account by the Government. The costs are far too high for it to be wholly ignored. I hope that the Minister will address the report's recommendations in some detail in his reply, so that the Government may pursue the noble cause of securing our workforce and putting all able Britons back into work and back on their own two feet.

8.01 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for calling the debate this evening and for his typically thoughtful speech, as well as for the powerful contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. As the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, on a day when the Government have set out the next stage of their plans for reforming welfare to ensure that no one is written off, it is fitting that we should have this opportunity to discuss the importance of helping people to stay in work or to return to work quickly when health conditions develop.

Arguably, that is both the alpha and the omega of successful welfare reform. It is the alpha because acting to prevent ill health leading to long-term absence is the first line of defence against worklessness and the very best way to reduce the numbers still coming on to incapacity benefits—still some 600,000 a year, more than half of whom are coming from employment. It is the omega because the ultimate ambition of welfare reform is no longer simply to help the workless get back to work but actually to make that return to work sustainable.

That cannot be achieved without a new approach to health and work—the vision set out so clearly by Dame Carol in her review earlier this year. Responding to the challenges that Dame Carol has laid out could not be more important. The economic costs are well documented and have been cited by noble Lords tonight. Sickness absence and worklessness in Britain cost more than £100 billion a year—greater than the current annual budget for the NHS. The human costs are potentially even greater. When an adult is prevented from working because of a health condition, the bottom

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line is often the impact on his or her family and children. There is clear evidence that families who have no one working are more likely to suffer from persistent low income and poverty.

Persistently low parental incomes do not just lead to children living below the poverty line; they also lead to worse health outcomes for those children. For example, the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among children aged five to 15 in families whose parents have never worked is almost double that of children with parents in low-skilled jobs, and around five times greater than for those with parents in professional occupations.

A separate study published in the British Medical Journal showed that the death rate from all external causes for children of parents classified as “never having worked” or as “long-term unemployed” was 13.1 times that for children of parents who were professionals. We cannot hope to reach our goals of helping a million off incapacity benefits, reaching 80 per cent employment or ending child poverty unless we act together to address these challenges.

As we talk about change today, we should recognise that we would not be within reach of these goals were it not for the progress that we have already made over the past decade or more. Claimant unemployment is near to its lowest level for 30 years. More people are in work than ever before—an increase of more than 3 million compared to 1997. As the noble Baroness highlighted, the current employment rate is more than 74 per cent. There has been an end to the year-on-year increase in the number of people on incapacity benefits, with about 140,000 fewer claimants than at the peak in 2003. Perhaps I will not take the opportunity to joust with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, about data, which we touched on this afternoon. I simply do not accept that the problem has got worse under this Government. It has got better. We are reducing the number on incapacity benefits. There are more than 400,000 fewer children living in workless households than in 1997.

These changes provide the platform for further progress, and today’s Green Paper takes those next steps. It offers more support in return for more responsibility—a benefit system that rewards responsibility, gives people the incentive to do the right thing, and encourages them to look for work and seek the skills they need for the future. It also ensures that opportunity is available to everyone; it seeks to end the current injustice whereby too many people are written off to a life on benefits and excluded from help to get back to work.

Importantly, it is a set of reforms which puts the support to help people remain in work at the heart of the welfare agenda. That is why we are taking forward Dame Carol’s recommendation to pilot a “fit for work” service, for the first time bringing together health and employment support to help those in the early stages of sickness absence. Both the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked about the “fit for work” service. I hope that they will understand that I cannot today give the specific details of our piloting plans, but it is clear that it is intended as a multidisciplinary service precisely because of the multiplicity of factors that take people out of work,

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not just the most common mental health or musculoskeletal conditions. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, also spoke about the range of conditions that Dame Carol's recommendations should encompass. Dame Carol has made clear that we should not overmedicalise the challenges.

Flexibility and creativity will also be crucial. The pilots will test a variety of approaches to delivery. That is why we have today announced that we will be challenging successful city strategies to develop innovative proposals to run some of the pilots as part of the broader pilot programme for the “fit for work” service.

We have also been working in partnership with healthcare professional and employer representative bodies to develop a reformed statutory medical certificate or “sick note”, consulting on the changes this autumn and intending to introduce the new form during 2009. The noble Lord, Lord Low, rightly emphasised the importance not just of moving towards more of a “fit note” but the wider question of supporting GPs and other healthcare professionals in making recommendations on work-related issues. That is why, as well as reforming the medical certificate, we are also working in partnership with healthcare professional bodies to take forward a programme of work to improve the training and guidance for healthcare professionals in providing advice on fitness for work.

GPs will always be the first port of call for a patient who develops a health condition. With the evidence we now have that work is generally good for health it would be wrong not to support GPs in reflecting this in the advice that they give to their patients. Critically the reforms must be about support for GPs, not placing burdens on them—about helping GPs to give the best possible advice to their patients. The reality is that too often signing a sick note becomes a substitute for treatment. That is not a GP’s fault; too often they do not have any other options.

That is why in taking forward Dame Carol’s recommendations in this area we aim to bring about systemic change—not just a different piece of paper but a radical overhaul of occupational health which provides more support for GPs, employees and employers alike.

That is the ambition of the “fit for work” service. It is why we are supporting the Faculty and Society of Occupational Medicine in working to unite the occupational health profession. It is why, in addition to our existing investment to support the employment and retention of disabled people—including through WORKSTEP, work preparation and the employability programmes—we have today announced that we are doubling the Access to Work budget to help about an extra 25,000 people a year to stay in or get back into work.

That is more support, which a “fit for work” service pilot could draw on in helping someone to stay in or return to work quickly. I agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the need to promote the Access to Work service, as we discussed earlier.

Over the coming months, as part of our commitment to deliver the independent living strategy, we will explore the effectiveness of employee retention assessments

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in helping disabled people to stay in work, thereby seeking to strike a critical balance between providing the best possible support for employers to make workplace adjustments while ensuring that we do not place unnecessary burdens on businesses, especially smaller ones in which, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, has emphasised, it is particularly important to address the current lack of available occupational health support.

Dame Carol recommended that government should work with employers and representative bodies to develop a robust model for measuring and reporting on the benefits of businesses investing in the health and well-being of their staff, and that employers should use this to report progress to their boards and in company accounts. Earlier this month, we launched a pilot of such a model—Business HealthCheck—in partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Business in the Community. More than 250 organisations from across the private and public sectors have already registered to take part in the pilot.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, spoke in particular about mental health. The Government are also committed to improving support for those with mental health conditions. Over the next three years, recurrent funding rising to £173 million has been allocated to improving access to psychological therapies. Further funds will be made available to test the impact of employment support advisers working in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme. The noble Baroness asked me for statistics on the number of therapists in training. I do not have those to hand, but they are available, I am sure, and I will provide her with them.

We will build on this progress over the coming months by setting out a national strategy for mental health and employment. A steering group of eminent specialists, chaired by Dame Carol Black, met for the first time earlier this month and will oversee the development of the strategy. They will be assisted by members with business and third-sector backgrounds to advise on all aspects of mental health and employment. In particular, they will focus on how mental health provision can be better tailored and integrated to help people to find work, to stay in work or to return to work. Taken together, these changes mark a radical step change in the way in which we approach the health of the working-age population. Over the coming months, as we develop the Government’s response to Dame Carol’s review, so we must continue to build on the partnership working that has defined this agenda from the very inception of our health, work and well-being strategy back in 2005. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, asked when we could expect the response. We aim to give it in the autumn. I do not have a precise date, but it will probably be towards the end of October.

Employers, healthcare professionals, unions and individuals—indeed, all those with an interest in the future health of Britain’s working-age population—should be engaged. Our goals are clear: to help more people to enter and remain in work, to establish healthier workplaces as the norm, and to eradicate the remaining legacy of poverty and social deprivation that still too often blights workless families and communities in

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Britain. It is clear that delivering this vision will be good for Britain and that, quite simply, we will not secure the future health of our nation without it.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.31 pm.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.13 to 8.31 pm.]

Education and Skills Bill

House again in Committee.

Clause 72 [Benefit and training information]:

On Question, Whether Clause 72 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Glentoran: This is a probing question on a serious problem. In the light of the Government’s track record on data security, what safeguards will be in place to ensure that this information will be passed securely between government departments and devolved Administrations? I should perhaps give the noble Baroness warning that all my points will be questions.

Will this information be disaggregated so that only information for Wales is passed down to the Assembly? How will that process be undertaken? I am, of course, wearing my Welsh hat. What limits are there on what information can be passed down? Who will it apply to? Does this cover people living in Wales or those who were educated in Wales or have lived in Wales, but have now moved across the border? How will the Government ensure that the information is kept anonymous? Will the Minister give examples of how this information will be used? Finally, what legislative authority is the Secretary of State using to pass information on individuals’ benefits, income tax and tax credit status to Welsh Assembly Ministers, as proposed in these clauses?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): I hope to reassure the noble Lord in responding to his questions, but if I have not answered him fully by the end of my remarks, I will write to him and circulate my response to Members of the Committee in case others are interested as well. In considering these very technical clauses, it may be helpful if I set out why the Government believe that data on benefits, learning and employment need to be shared between Whitehall departments and the devolved Administrations.

In the past, the biggest barrier to full employment was a shortage of jobs, but today and tomorrow it will be the shortage of the right skills that will lie between us and our goal of employment opportunity for all those we seek to serve. The Government are determined to help people get back into work and help them get on at work so they can build a good life for themselves and their families. As we all agreed in discussing the new rights to training established in Clause 71, having the right skills is crucial to achieving this goal. But too

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often in the past there have been unhelpful gaps between the support provided by Jobcentre Plus and that provided by colleges.

On 12 June, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions launched Work Skills, the Government’s next steps in the integration of welfare and skills services, to ensure they can respond to the needs and ambitions of both employers and individuals. This underpins the shared objective between my department and the Department for Work and Pensions of moving more people into sustainable employment and progression. The command paper sets out the steps we are taking to radically improve how our work and skills services are delivered. At the heart of this approach is a commitment to join up employment and skills services to make them more effective, and this is the key point. It means personal skills accounts to improve access to skills support, information and advice. It also means better advice on training, careers and job opportunities, with skills health checks to assess individual skill needs against job requirements and personal aspirations.

Alongside this, Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council and learning providers will work more closely together to ensure that benefit customers who need help with their skills are given what they need to get jobs, stay in work and progress in their skills and careers. If we are to make this joined-up approach work, it is clear that we need to do more than simply measure job outcomes and training outcomes in isolation. We need instead to know how well our programmes are doing in helping people off benefits and into sustainable employment, with continuing progression as they improve their skills in work. Currently, the Government do not have the necessary information to do that. The limited and tightly restricted sharing of data between researchers in government departments and the devolved Administrations in Wales and Scotland established by these clauses will make that analysis possible. These clauses provide for measuring the outcomes of the policy we have been debating.

The information to be shared under Clauses 72 to 76 and the subsequent analysis will ensure that researchers are able to determine whether the qualifications and skills being achieved by adults are economically valuable. By economically valuable, I mean that individuals completing their learning achieve some increase in their employment chances and/or their wages over the medium to long term; that is, a measurable outcome in terms of improved salary or progression in work. As a result, the Government will be able to ensure not only that taxpayers’ money is being spent effectively, but also that these individuals are being helped to get a good job and improve their standard of living.

The effect of this Bill in relation to the sharing of data is very specific. During consideration in another place, my honourable friend David Lammy, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, tabled a number of technical amendments to these clauses to improve the drafting and bring greater clarity about the information that can be disclosed and used. Clause 72(4) now makes clear the purposes for which the data can be used and

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disclosed. These are strictly limited to evaluating and assessing the effectiveness of education and training policies and social security or employment policies as they relate to education and training. I can reassure the Committee that the departments could not use the information in an operational context to pursue individuals. This information is not about Connexions and the sharing of knowledge, which dominated much of the debate earlier in Committee; this is about research into the effectiveness of policies.

At the point at which data will be used by researchers, items which might explicitly identify individuals will be removed. So we are talking about anonymised data. Clause 75 creates a new offence for the wrongful onward disclosure of data. Any onward disclosure of information outside the departments or the devolved Administrations concerned without lawful authority would be an offence. In addition, any disclosure of the data for uses other than those set out in the clauses without lawful authority would be an offence, as would disclosing data where identities are discoverable. It is a very high test. The new offence created through the Bill would sit alongside any new sanction for the most serious breaches of data principles on which the Government have agreed to consult following the recommendations of the Poynter review.

Without the specific data sharing set out in the Bill, we will not be in a position to target government funding effectively to improve learning outcomes and employment prospects. Alternative methods such as destination surveys are prohibitively expensive and, given that the Government hold the data, we think this is the right approach. So, given the safeguards that are in place and the better informed debate that all those interested in these matters will be able to have, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his objection to the clause standing part of the Bill.

I have a helpful diagram here. What will happen is that the departments will have their own non-anonymised data, for which they are responsible, and these will be passed to the DWP, which will carry out the anonymising. The DWP will then pass them back to the departments for the analysts to work on the data in an anonymised form for research purposes. The devolved Administrations, for example, will be able to receive data on a range of issues but they will not be able to see the individual to whom the data refer; they will know only that it is a recipient of training who has or has not progressed as a result of an investment made in their training. It is very much a resource for government researchers to track carefully the value of the investment that has been made in the education and training to which we are committing. With that explanation, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to support the clause.

Lord Glentoran: I thank the noble Baroness for her response, the latter part of which was of more note. When one first looks at Clauses 72 and 73 one is quite horrified. Clause 72 states that the personal information within subsection (2),

and that it is held by the Secretary of State for whatever purposes he wants. It states that the information can be devolved to almost any authority he so chooses.

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We, of course, are not party to what information might be supplied. The noble Baroness said that the data can be anonymised, but I wonder what that will cost and how thorough it would be.

Clause 73 states:

That is not in the true democratic spirit of the way in which we like to run this country. As the noble Baroness knows well, in Wales there are all kinds of authorities—the Assembly, its various sub-groups, its committees, and the local authorities, who will presumably be involved in this at various stages and times.

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