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Even if the review process is perfect, there will still be some people with long-term health conditions who are able to undertake work search but who need their conditions to be taken into account. They may, for example, be able to work very competently and fully but for only part of the day or a few days a week from time to time. In other words, they can work well but not necessarily on a sustainable basis. The resulting absences or the requirement for additional time to travel to work or extra support at work need to be taken fully into account when assessing both their search for jobs or subsequent work record. The descriptors relating to fluctuating conditions will be crucial in assisting the assessors.

Because the claimant commitment is new, we do not know the extent to which DWP advisers will take long-term or fluctuating conditions into account. There is a precedent for health conditions to be taken into account when good cause for turning down a job is considered. Those are already set out and include,

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The draft regulations do not list how this issue will be dealt with under universal credit. Will the Minister outline what is intended in this regard?

I want to finish by bringing to the attention of the Committee the concerns of Scope, which is very worried about the proposals as they stand. It fears that,

Scope is,

Moreover, Scope is,

After all, sanctions are most likely to affect those who did not fully understand that penalties could be imposed. This frequently involves claimants who already face multiple barriers to work, including various disabilities.

Scope also believes that there is little to suggest that sanctioning such claimants in this way will actually do much to change behaviour when a claimant, perhaps with a learning disability, has not understood why they were sanctioned in the first place. Scope is concerned that conditionality requirements and sanctions, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords this afternoon, will not be applied to disabled people until there has been proper consideration of need. A thorough assessment of need and barriers to finding work must be carried out before any decision is taken to apply a sanction. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how he responds to the concerns raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollins and Lady Meacher, and other noble Lords who have spoken.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I apologise. I should have put a couple of questions to the Minister. How will care leavers be treated in this system, and what additional support and flexibility might they expect to be shown? Perhaps he might prefer to write to me on those two points.

Lord Freud: Before I start on the amendment formally, it is worth making it crystal clear that the structure of the changes we have made bear in mind some of the real issues that we are talking about. I am particularly conscious of people with learning difficulties and fluctuating conditions, or a nest of other problems. I want to spend one minute on the design of the new welfare system, when it comes out like Aphrodite coming out of the sea near Paphos. The first point is the design of the work programme, where the rewards are not to get someone into a job and to keep them there, as it used to be, for 13 weeks. When you think about it, that is not what we want; we want someone to be in a long-term job. The structure, particularly for the hardest to help, is that the real rewards for the provider are when someone is in work for more than two years-it is two years and three months. You do not get someone into a job for two years and three months if it is inappropriate. That simply is not going to happen so when we are talking about the work

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programme, the incentive on the providers is to match people up with jobs that they can do in a way that the current system simply does not.

The second structural change that we are making, and which is really relevant in this area, is in how the universal credit works. By pulling together the two systems, the out-of-work benefits system and the in-work tax credit system, you do not have this desperate problem that we have today where if you take a risk and try to get a job and it did not work, you go back to go-and now try to get your benefits again. It is a nightmare but there have been bits of sticking plaster on it.

If you are in a fluctuating condition and this week you cannot work-let us say you have a job where there is a little flexibility-all that would happen would be that you would slide up the taper. Nothing would have changed in the nature of your benefit. There is just an adjustment in your universal credit payment and when you can work more, you get more. Those two things are big structural changes to bear in mind when we deal with these areas. They will help a lot because much of what people are rightly so concerned about are some of the incredible blocks that are in the current system and which make it so difficult for people to partake. It is why we have excluded so many people from having a full life, because in modern western society being part of the economy of the country is having a full life. They have been excluded and there is all the depression that results, so there are some really strong underlying changes that should help.

7.30 pm

I will narrow it down to the specific issues. It is of course critical to take account of a claimant's health condition and capability when considering how work-related requirements apply to them, and the Bill provides specific safeguards in this area. The claimant with limited capability for work cannot be expected to move into a job, and therefore cannot be subject to higher level sanctions. A claimant with limited capability for work and work-related activity, cannot be subject to work-related requirements, or conditionality sanctions of any kind.

However, we do not intend to use legislation to stipulate what must be in a claimant commitment. Specifically, we do not want to end up with a long and inevitably complex list stipulating its contents, and certainly not in a primary legislation designed to set out a framework. We wish to avoid replicating the situation we have in jobseeker's allowance, which is an extensive, highly prescriptive legislation, even having regulations specifying obvious details such as the requirement to include the claimant's name in the jobseeker's agreement. We feel that if we started introducing specific legislative provisions dealing, for example, with addressing reasonable adjustments for health conditions, many others would follow.

Of course, for those claimants required to look for work, where it is appropriate to place limitations on work, search and availability requirements, this will be properly reflected in the claimant commitment. The illustrative claimant commitments provided to noble Lords demonstrate how this might be done. But given that the claimant commitment is intended to be

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personalised, we believe that the exact content is best left to advisers to decide, following discussions with the claimant.

As my noble friend Lord Boswell and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said in their remarks, we clearly do not want-or, you could almost argue, cannot afford-to breach discrimination, equality and public law duties. We must and will make reasonable adjustments to ensure claimants can access our services. But equally important is our desire to set requirements to help people prepare for, or move into work in a way that reflects a capability of circumstance. This is critical to support people to progress.

There are additional checks and balances. If a claimant is unhappy with specific work, search and availability requirements, they will be able to ask for another adviser to review them. This happens now under the jobseeker's allowance, and there will be an appropriate review procedure under universal credit as well. Where a claimant does fail to meet a requirement, sanctions will not apply where the claimant demonstrates that there is a good reason. In considering whether a claimant has a good reason for a failure, decision-makers must consider any relevant matter raised by the claimant. So if the claimant submits relevant information about their health condition that has prevented them from complying with a requirement, the decision-maker must take that into account.

Lord Wigley: I am very grateful. Would the system that he is describing take on board the fact that the claimant may not be in a position to express, have the confidence to express, or know how to express the reasons that he or she cannot make that case? Therefore there is the need for access to professional advice.

Lord Freud: As I said in the previous debate, taking on board advice from a claimant's own medical practitioner and other sources is part of the process here. To pick up the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, for claimants in the work preparation group, we intend to carry forward the current system of home visits to claimants with mental health problems to ensure we understand why they fail to comply. Of course, all sanction decisions can be referred to an independent tribunal, helping ensure we get it right. But equally, we intend to move away from extensive-and ultimately incomplete-lists and regulations. It is impractical for legislation to catch all the relevant matters that may arise in every single case of non-compliance, and the lengthy JSA regulations-which have matters that must and may be taken into account in determining whether a claimant has good reason-are not actually helpful for decision-makers or claimants.

To pick up the point from the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Hollins, on the work capability assessment, we do rely on the WCA and therefore Professor Harrington's review is critical to help us get it right. Claimants should be placed only in a work preparation or a work-related requirements group where they are capable of meeting these very basic requirements. Once in those groups, clients will need to take account of their health condition. They are designed to take on board all the available evidence on that individual.

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The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, asked what happened with the Harrington review. As noble Lords know, we took on board the entirety of Malcolm Harrington's first recommendations. The main thing was to empower decision makers to make the right decisions. In response to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, we have introduced a mental health co-ordinator in each district who has an outward-facing role working with mental health services and an inward-facing role developing the knowledge and confidence of advisers. The other area of Professor Harrington's advice that was taken up was on improving our communications so that claimants understand the process and the result and are able to add additional evidence if they need to. In response, we have also made improvements in mental health with mental function champions across the network at Atos. Professor Harrington is currently undertaking his second independent review. We are waiting for it, and we will then look very hard at what to do with those recommendations. We will take them very seriously.

Turning to Amendment 51E on work-focused health-related assessments, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, will know that these assessments have been suspended because they were not working as intended. We will re-evaluate, as I have already said. I have already offered to write to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on care leavers, and I will add that topic to that letter.

I do not want noble Lords to feel that I am being negative in this area, and it is over-easy to think that I am. I have valued the contributions noble Lords have made. I do not see these things as appropriate for the Bill, but I am clearly going to consider deeply the points that have been made today with the aim of applying them appropriately as we implement the system. I value what noble Lords have said. It resonates. We need to get it right. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Wilkins: I totally take the fact that the Minister is setting out a system in which claimants should be confident that they are being helped and that that is the purpose of the system. However, does he accept that existing claimants have to overcome an enormous amount of negative experience because of the Atos system so there is an enormous mountain to climb?

Lord Freud: The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, makes a point, which we have actually discussed in the Chamber in the past. She knows my concern about this. I think that the Atos and WCA process is genuinely improving now, with the changes that have been made. A lot of the stories that we have are of the system as it

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was, unreformed. It is gradually improving. That is not to say that it is now perfect-that is not my claim. We are committed to getting the process right, and we inherited that process. I know the concerns that there are, seeing them at first hand in many cases. It is a terrible balance between abandoning people and saying, "You're out of the economic life of this country" and then trying to pull them in in a coherent way. Getting that balance right, as all noble Lords here today understand, is complicated and a path that we are moving down. But I am determined that we will get to a position where we are doing it with the right balance.

Baroness Hollins: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response, particularly for saying that he is going to consider these amendments deeply as we move towards implementation. There were three things that the amendments were trying to do. One was to try to ensure that evidence from claimants' own health professionals would be properly taken into account at an early enough stage to prevent some of the distress that is currently affecting some claimants. The second one was about reasonable adjustments, which are a requirement under the law but are perhaps not fully understood. It is about an individualised approach, is it not? The third one was ensuring that the impact of a health condition on a candidate's ability to comply was properly assessed and understood. It is not about asking for a rigid list of things in the claimant commitment. What it is really about is asking for joined-up work between different departments with different responsibilities and joined-up care for people with health conditions with the NHS and the DWP. There is no reason why Jobcentre Plus staff and existing specialist NHS staff could not share some information for the benefit of the claimant, both at the assessment stage and during their progression into work, which is what we would all like to see.

Although decision makers are required to take information into account, there is evidence that they are not always doing that. Yes, of course people can appeal, but appeals are very distressing, not just for the individual but also for their families. These amendments were intended to make the system work better both for claimants, so that they are more likely to succeed, but also because it is much more satisfying for staff to work in a system that they know is working fairly. So I am hoping that the Minister will find a way to ensure that the spirit of the amendment is taken on board. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51CD withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.44 pm.

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