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I have a particular reason for wanting to refer to subsection (2) of the proposed new clause, and I must declare an interest as a patron of an organisation called Childhood First, a privilege that is shared by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. Would the Minister be good enough to make certain that Ofsted is made aware of the definitions of the well-being of a child? Childhood First provides a number of small homes which care for some of the most traumatised, damaged and difficult children in the country, young children who come from desperate circumstances. The charity, known first as Pepper Harrow and now as Childhood First, cares for them with consummate skill and devotion. Over the years it has earned consistently high gradings from originally the Inspectorate of Social Services and then the Commission for Social Care Inspection. However, Ofsted has come on to the scene recently, and what less than a year ago was outstanding for CSCI is inadequate for Ofsted. Indeed, Ofsted has even gone so far as to instruct that fences should be put around the houses in which these traumatised and damaged children live and, in the debrief it handed out on a home, it criticised the staff to the damaged children. If Ofsted were to read the six definitions of well-being, it would realise that its attitude to these children in care is not "well-being". Therefore, while
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Lord Freud: My Lords, no one can fault the motivation behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is a close neighbour of mine in east Kent; we live in neighbouring hundreds. Clearly the well-being of our children is of paramount importance and all the criteria in the amendment are desirable, from the secure attachment of the child to his or her social and economic well-being. However, the question is whether it would be possible to run an already overcomplicated welfare system with such requirements in the Bill.
To ensure that decisions are taken which take into account all of these criteria would threaten paralysis of decision-making for Jobcentre Plus front-line staff and outside providers. Given the pivotal importance of getting as many people as possible back into the workplace, I am sure that this not the intention of the amendment. Amendment 15 is more tightly focused. It has been tabled by the Government in response to concern over the possible adverse effects of action plans and provides the appropriate level of protection for the Bill.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I commend the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The noble Lord had a seminal impact on the work we did in Committee and I, as a member of that committee, valued his wise counsel and experience in this field. He is an expert on the paramount needs of children and we have had some powerful representations from our Cross-Bench colleagues in that direction.
The noble Lord is right to say that this could be revolutionary legislation. If we can get the support mechanisms right and sensitively delivered, it could transform the lives of children. However, the Bill should be focused on worklessness, and if you focus exclusively on worklessness you have to be aware that the considerations contained in the amendment might get in the way. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, might well be right about the delivery of this mechanism. The signal success secured by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in introducing the word "well-being" into the Bill was a significant step forward. I have studied social security legislation for a long while and we will watch with great care how the guidance on well-being is played out, how it is delivered and what difference it makes.
It is very ambitious to propose applying subsections (3) and (4) of the proposed new clause across all the territory at once; it is a step too far at this stage. The noble Lord's instincts are right; this should go in guidance. The role that he has played in bringing the matters before both the Committee and the House is commendable and has improved the Bill. However, on his instinct to put this in guidance, speaking from my own experience, we should first watch it and see how it goes. This legislation will be evaluated very keenly from all sides in the future and, if I were the noble
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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I, too, support the principle behind my noble friend's amendment and pay tribute to him for the long-standing commitment he has to the welfare of children, particularly that they should experience a secure family life as they grow up. I am led to reflect on past briefings that I have received on the continental experience, where it appears that more mothers are in employment, yet women delay returning to work longer. That might seem paradoxical, but, from my recollection, it is the situation.
We have to proceed with particular care in this country, because, in contrast with the culture on the continent, ours is not one in which the value of caring for children and good-quality maternal care has been demonstrated. Our care system in many ways falls short, whereas that on the continent appears often to have performed better. We therefore need to be very careful-as the House is striving to be-that, in making this important progress, we do not lose sight of the strong attachment that children have to their carers, as the noble Lord, Lord Freud, mentioned.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for moving the amendment and the manner in which he did so, as well as for his kind words about me. As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made a significant contribution in Committee; it certainly moved and focused the Government and I thank him for that. However, the Government share the analysis of the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Freud, about the particular focus of the amendment-as the noble Lord said in moving it, it is by way of a probing amendment.
As he and others have recognised, I announced in Committee that the Government would bring forward amendments which ensured that the well-being of children was always taken into account when the personal adviser and parent completed an action plan or a jobseeker's agreement. I welcome the probing amendment, but it would go a stage further and create a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the well-being of any child affected by the discharge of any function under the Bill, the Welfare Reform Act 2007 or the Jobseekers Act 1995. We do not believe that it is either necessary or appropriate to apply a specific consideration of child well-being across all of the provisions.
Section 7 of the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 states that it is the general duty of the Secretary of State to promote the well-being of children in England. What constitutes well-being is set out in Section 10(2) of the Children Act 2004 and includes a child's physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation;
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The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked how the definition of well-being would be dealt with. The Government propose to use the definition that I have just outlined when advisers and decision-makers make judgments on what is reasonable when they draw up an action plan or jobseeker's agreement with a parent, and it will be placed in guidance.
It is far more appropriate specifically to apply the consideration of the well-being of a child to the drawing-up of action plans and jobseeker's agreements. Personal advisers and customers discuss and agree these documents at the beginning of a claim to benefit, and they provide the framework of what is expected of a customer throughout the life of the claim. They can be reconsidered and revised at any point in the claim to reflect changes in a customer's circumstances or those of their children. It is during these regular discussions that a parent's caring responsibilities are considered, and it is at these meetings that we believe it is right and appropriate to consider the well-being of children.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to Ofsted's recent actions. I am afraid that I have nothing specific on that in my brief, but I shall certainly undertake to draw to the attention of appropriate colleagues the instance that he identified.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, spoke about the importance of family life, a matter on which I think we can all agree. There is nothing in the Bill which is contrary to this; indeed, just the reverse-as the noble Lord I think acknowledged. The thrust of Part 1 in particular is to support individuals, including lone parents, to move closer to and into work, for their well-being, that of their children and for the economic well-being of the family. We know the positive psychological benefits for children when parents move into paid work; we also know that children of lone parents who are not in work have a much greater chance of being in poverty. I welcome support for the amendments that we are going to bring forward in due course and for the general thrust of this Bill. I hope that, accordingly, the noble Lord will feel able not to press his amendment.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am most grateful for the Minister's assurances. I think that I accept the limitations that one or two noble Lords have thought to put on my ambitions. We must go a step at a time. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, after "circumstances" insert "and where claimants have guaranteed and predictable access to high quality, flexible, affordable childcare acceptable to the parent and child"
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: Before I go any further, I should state that I am a non-remunerated non-executive director of the Wise Group, which provides welfare-to-work programmes in Glasgow. It is in the register of interests, but I say that for the avoidance of any doubt.
This is a return to familiar territory, to some extent. If it is worklessness that this Bill is trying to attack, the red line for government provision is childcare that is affordable, accessible and suitable to family circumstances. In general, I think that the Government have made substantial progress and come quite a long way to meeting some of the concerns that were expressed. There must be residual power left in the hands of decision-makers, but when the Minister said that he was content to describe the situation as "leaving the parent in the driving seat", that was good enough for me. It would be churlish not to acknowledge that.
This amendment focuses on a fine distinction, in two respects. Clause 1 relates to the training programme that comes at the end of the Jobcentre Plus period of support for JSA claimants, before they go into the hands of private providers. The clause focuses specifically on that, but I want to focus on the programme for Scotland. We had one or two exchanges in the Committee, and, unsurprisingly, people in Scotland picked up on those exchanges. I have now had even more powerful recommendations and suggestions from people in Scotland, supported by the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, an organisation that I know and trust and have worked with for many years and which has its fingers on the pulse. In a community like Glasgow, it knows what it is talking about, and I would trust its judgment. It is even more concerned now that the differences that apply in childcare provision north of the border mean that the facilities, structural change and money that have been put into this area of childcare in England-I am not so sure about Wales and Northern Ireland-just do not exist north of the border to the same extent. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that that could present problems, particularly for those in the "work for your benefit" training programme if they have children in the 10 to 14 year-old age group. It could pose particular problems in the long school break in the summer.
If the opinion of SCoWR is not enough to found my argument on, I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that the objectives for childcare provision north of the border in the Scottish Government's document, Early Years Framework, do not include ensuring that parents in Scotland are supported in accessing employment and training through the provision of flexible, accessible and affordable childcare. So we face two potential sets of circumstances, into which we are introducing this new employment scheme.
I would like some assurances about the provisions in place in England, which are quite substantial. I still have difficulty in believing some of them: by 2010, we are to have 3,500 children's centres in England and free part-time early education places for three and four year-olds-I hope that those are both true-and by 2010, all five to 11 year-olds are to access affordable school-based childcare all year round. A sufficiency action plan has been required of local government, and a transformational fund of £125 million has been
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Colleagues with English experience will know more about the commitments that I have just referred to than I do. I warmly welcome the ambition demonstrated by that programme, and I hope that it is in place by 2010, but, as my Granny used to say, "I hae ma doots". If the House will forgive a piece of Scottish special pleading, this is important, and these amendments seek to reflect that. There are precedents for delaying implementation of some of these programmes north of the border, where the circumstances are not yet in place to be sure that proper provision is being made for accessible childcare.
If the Government have any doubts about that whatsoever, then I hope that the Minister would be generous enough to acknowledge that there is a potential gap in providing facilities north of the border. If he finds to his satisfaction that that is so, I hope that he will come back to make sure that some circumstances are put in place so that, if nothing else happens, lone parents north of the border are not financially sanctioned in circumstances where it is only because of the absence of affordable, accessible childcare. I beg to move.
Lord Freud: My Lords, this area was debated intensively in Committee. Our concern with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, is that while it is designed by him effectively to put pressure, as he described it, on Scottish provision, it may have wider, undesirable effects on the rest of the country. We are concerned that if these amendments are adopted as they stand, they are likely to reduce the efficacy of the system across the rest of the UK-a system that is designed to help people back into work. In this case, however, it would be adding to the bureaucracy to sort out one particular problem.
Baroness Afshar: I add my thanks for the substantial changes and for the impact that the Committee has had. As a newcomer, I am absolutely astounded at the kind of work we can do, and I am very grateful for the changes that have been initiated. I should also like to add my support for this amendment, because sometimes, in the depths of Yorkshire, finding affordable childcare becomes quite a problem. It seems to me that since the intention is there to make the well-being of the child paramount, it would perhaps be appropriate to add this, because in many areas-particularly in poorer areas of this country-affordable childcare is still not available to all.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for introducing this amendment. As noble Lords will be aware, "work for your benefit" is a programme for jobseekers who reach the end of the Flexible New Deal, usually after two years of claiming JSA. The programme is designed to fit within the overall jobseeker's regime, and will consist of individually tailored work experience placements
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Amendment 2 aims to ensure that those jobseekers to whom this clause applies could be required to participate in a "work for your benefit" programme only where there is a guaranteed and predicable source of high-quality, flexible and affordable childcare available to them that they and their child find acceptable. I am supportive of the thinking behind this amendment and I have no disagreement in principle with the eloquent arguments that the noble Lord has put forward, but I hope that I can reassure your Lordships that the amendment is unnecessary.
Many of the parents who will be required to participate in "work for your benefit" pilots will need childcare in order to do so. Like all parents, they will need assurances that their children will be cared for in a safe and secure environment. Some will prefer to use friends or family to provide that care. This is the option chosen by many working parents. Others may choose formal sources of care.
It is important to understand some of the background of the jobseekers regime in order to put this amendment in context. Parents claiming JSA are able to agree restrictions of their availability for work where their caring commitments make this necessary. It is possible, for example, to restrict availability for work to as little as 16 hours a week. Jobseekers will be able to carry those restrictions forward into the "work for your benefit" programme, so that they may, for example, need to take part only for 16 hours a week.
In the majority of cases where such restrictions apply, parents will be able to fulfil their obligations within the hours that their children are at school. If this is not possible and formal childcare is needed, affordability should not be an issue. Suppliers contracted to deliver "work for your benefit" programmes will be responsible for funding childcare for customers' children where a need for childcare is identified. This will ensure that childcare is affordable and that participants are not worse off.
The amendment requires a guarantee that childcare will be available. There can be no absolute guarantee that a parent will be able to access precisely the childcare that they want at the precise point they want it. Judgments about predictability and quality are also almost impossible to make. The effect of the amendment, therefore, would be to wreck the clause in respect of jobseekers with children, although I know that that is not its intent. Therefore, the Government propose to deal with this issue in the same way as for other provisions that have increased the obligations that we have placed on parents. We will use regulations to ensure that JSA claimants who are parents, including lone parents, will not be sanctioned if they fail to participate in "work for your benefit" because they
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In other words, the amendment would require that the childcare was provided via the employer, although I am not sure that that was the intent. I should make it quite clear that it is for parents to choose the childcare that they feel is appropriate for their child. We do not seek to influence that decision. Our broader childcare strategy is based on the principle of giving parents as wide a choice of provision as possible. In a small proportion of cases childcare is available via employers-for example, through workplace crèches-but in the vast majority of cases it is not. We will continue to adopt the principle of allowing parents to source appropriate provision, as this offers them the widest possible choice. And, of course, this will be underpinned by the safeguards that I have just outlined.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, was talking particularly about concerns in Scotland and I acknowledge that it is quite right to look at the comparison between childcare in England and childcare in Scotland. In England, over £25 billion has been invested in childcare and early years since 1997. He made reference to children's centres. At the moment there are already over 3,000 in place, which is ahead of target for extended schools. The Childcare Act has been in effect since 2008, but it does not apply in Scotland and it has not been possible for us to ascertain how much the Scottish Government have spent on childcare since 1997. I understand that the Scottish Government have no plans to introduce children's centres, no plans to introduce extended schools and no plans for graduate leaders.
The noble Lord referred to the Scottish Government's publication The Early Years Framework. I understand that one of the key objectives included is ensuring that parents are supported to access employment and training to reduce the risk of child poverty, including through the provision of flexible, accessible and affordable childcare. That is all to the good, but I understand that no new initiatives and no new money have been made available.
It may help the noble Lord if I say that we are not proposing to pilot "work for your benefit" schemes in Scotland, so there is a bit of time for Scotland to catch up in terms of childcare provisions. So far as problems with parents in school holidays are concerned, we will allow parents to flex the hours that they do to just term time if that is necessary.
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