9 Dec 2015 : Column 1604

These amendments would prevent Clauses 13 and 14 coming into place unless the Government can demonstrate to Parliament’s satisfaction that they will achieve what they state—namely, supporting people into work—without having a detrimental impact on people’s financial situation or health. At Second Reading I raised significant concerns about the proposals that I know were shared by many in this House and by Members in the other place, too, including Members in the Minister’s own party. They tabled amendments that were not moved.

What do I see as the problem? Many organisations, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Rethink Mental Illness and Parkinson’s UK, oppose these clauses because of the detrimental impact the changes will have on people who are ill or debilitated by their condition. The changes will mean that from 2017 new claimants will receive the same amount as those on jobseeker’s allowance, meaning they will be £30 a week worse off than under the current system. Those claimants, such as people recovering from cancer, will no longer be entitled to additional financial support in recognition of their illness or disability.

In his response at Second Reading, the Minister pointed out that many people with cancer are, at least initially, placed in the support group and suggested that they will not be affected. I agree; those in the support group will not be affected. However, my concern is not that people will not be supported while they undergo treatment for illness. My concern is for those people who either have moved into the WRAG from the support group once their treatment has finished or do not meet the stricter criteria of the support group and are placed straight into the WRAG. The suggestion that the number of such people is small is not true; the Government’s own estimates suggest that it could be above 5,000. Given the transient nature of the benefit, with people moving in and out of the WRAG, the number of people who will be affected is likely to be much higher. My amendments seek more accurate figures as part of the evidence.

What is also not clear, and which is particularly important for people with cancer, is whether those who are in the support group before April 2017 but then move into the WRAG after April 2017 would be classified as new claimants or whether they would be subject to the cut and be put on to the lower rate of £73.10. I hope the Minister will be able to clarify that. I am sure that he will.

The impact of having cancer does not necessarily end once someone finishes treatment and recovers from its immediate side-effects. Common consequences of treatment include: chronic fatigue; extreme pain; mental health problems, including moderate to severe anxiety or depression and post-traumatic stress disorder; urinary and gastrointestinal problems; speech difficulties; and much more. Many of these problems may emerge some time after treatment and last for months or years. I give the true example of Jim, who was successfully treated for prostate cancer. He said, “I suffer lots of problems with my bladder and colon. Being caught short is a constant worry so I have to live my life aware of this constantly”.

It cannot be right to suggest that people like Jim should be treated in the same was as jobseekers who

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1605

are fit and able to work. If the proposals go ahead, people such as those with cancer who may initially go into the support group, but then move into the WRAG when their treatment finishes, will drop from £109 to £73.10 when they move from one group to the other. For many, this is a huge drop, leaving them in a particularly vulnerable situation, and could compromise the progress of their recovery. I urge the Minister to look carefully at this group of people and the impact that the change will have on them before making any changes to the legislation.

Ahead of the election, the Government made a very welcome commitment that their welfare reform programme would be underpinned by a commitment to protect the most vulnerable and the disabled. People recovering from cancers are vulnerable. Some face side-effects, live with the knowledge that their cancer may return and are in need of support. They are not fit to work. The reason that people receive ESA WRAG or the limited capability for work element of universal credit is because they have been judged as having limited capability to work—in other words, they are too ill to work. Cutting someone’s money will do nothing to address this. It will not improve their health. Indeed, if anything, it is likely to make it worse by causing additional stress and anxiety, with added worries about making ends meet financially.

The Minister made a particular effort at Second Reading to highlight the fact that having limited capability to work is not the same as being unable to work. It is my understanding that someone is placed in the WRAG because their capability for work is deemed to be so limited that they cannot reasonably be expected to look for, or engage in, work. That is why they have been deemed eligible for ESA rather than JSA. People on ESA WRAG are simply too ill to work at this point in time. These people need time to recover and a degree of financial support to help their recovery. Cutting people’s benefit levels will not help to support them back to work.

At Second Reading, the Minister referred to an OECD report as evidence for the change. The report stated:

“Financial incentives to work can be improved by either cutting welfare benefit levels, or introducing in-work benefits while leaving benefit levels unchanged”.

However, the report to which the Minister referred looked only at unemployed and inactive individuals, not people who are unable to work due to illness. Indeed, if you were to look at the research on people who have limited capability for work due to illness—as people in the WRAG do—the evidence is very different. For example, a study by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University in 2011 found that cutting benefit levels for those who are unable to work due to illness, or recovering from illness, does not result in more people returning to work. Many people with illnesses and disabilities are significantly worse off as a result. Research by Macmillan, for example, found that people with cancer were, on average, £570 a month worse off because of the financial impact of their diagnosis. Many cancer sufferers struggle to cope financially. There has been recent media coverage of Macmillan research which showed that almost 170,000 people with cancer in the UK cannot celebrate events such as Christmas or a family birthday due to lack of money.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1606

It should be a key principle of the welfare system that those who have worked hard but who find themselves, through no fault of their own, unwell and unable to work for a period—not permanently—will be provided with an adequate safety net. We should not do anything to undermine that principle. It is important to have an assessment of the impact that the changes will have on people’s financial situation and their physical and mental health. Financial pressure will force people to return to work before they are physically and mentally fit enough. I have heard of people affected by cancer who, even on the current amount of money that the WRAG pays, have felt pressured to return to work before they were well enough. This has led to them returning to work too soon, and their health suffering as a result, to the extent that they now need to be in the support group. If this is happening on the current payment rate of £102, I can only imagine what will happen when the payment drops to £73.

Much has been said about the role that work can play in keeping people healthy. I do not doubt for one minute that that is the case. For many people who have been ill, returning to work represents a return to normality and a sign that they are reclaiming their life. Many people talk about the importance of becoming an employee again and being defined by their work status, not their cancer. However—and this is important —that only holds true if the work they return to is right and appropriate for them. It has to be “good work” for them, by which we mean work that is suitable, appropriate and meets the needs of people returning from illness.

Amendments similar to mine were tabled by Conservative Members in the other place and sought to highlight the significant impact that the changes will have. The proposed changes are neither sensible nor morally right. While my amendments seek the evidence to support Clauses 13 and 14, the important point is that people who are recovering from serious illnesses and are not considered fit to work should not be further financially penalised. There is an opportunity here for the Government to demonstrate their commitment to the vulnerable and disabled by rethinking the proposed changes.

As I said at Second Reading, when, in 2012, the Government lost several consecutive votes, the then Bill was converted into a financial privilege measure. I hope that that will not occur now but in 2012, despite the fact that the Bill was converted into a financial privilege measure, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Freud—came up trumps and agreed to put people who are vulnerable into the support group. I hope he is minded to do the same this time—that is, help those who are vulnerable and ill. I am sure he will do that and demonstrate that the Government support the vulnerable. I beg to move.

6.15 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, this is an extremely important group of amendments. On behalf of the Labour Benches, my noble friend Lady Sherlock and I will oppose Clauses 13 and 14 standing part of the Bill and will support Amendments 50 and 53, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. We support the thrust of Amendment 52 in the names of my noble

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1607

friend Lord Layard and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollins and Lady Tyler, which concerns access to psychological therapies. I acknowledge the campaigning work conducted by my noble friend when we were in government and the fact that he managed to move the issue of psychological therapies up the political agenda. More than that, he was significantly responsible for people getting treated.

As we have heard, Amendments 50 and 53 defer the changes to ESA coming into force until their impact on individuals’ physical and mental health, their financial situation and their ability to work has been estimated. All these matters have, in one way or another, been the subject of real concern since the substance of this policy—a £30 a week docking of the WRAG rate—became apparent. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, explained that he was particularly focused on people moving from the support group to the WRAG who were recovering from cancer. In so far as the Government’s impact assessment seeks to address these matters, it seems to conclude that it is doing claimants a favour by removing the WRAG rate and its equivalent in universal credit because this will encourage them to take steps back to work, with a consequent improvement in their health and the life chances of their children.

We should be ashamed, if not surprised, that a priority for our Government is to reduce the income of disabled people—individuals who have been assessed as not currently fit for work—from the current rate of £102 a week to just £73 a week, and to pray in aid a 10 year-old OECD report which, by all accounts, does not make a single reference to disabled people. We should also be concerned about the attempt to incentivise and coerce people into work when they have been found by a rigorous assessment not to be fit for work. There is either a lack of understanding of, or a callous disregard for, the financial circumstances that many in the WRAG face today, let alone in the future—circumstances that mean they struggle to pay their bills and maintain their health, rather than not drift into social isolation and focus on activity that will move them closer to work.

Of course, this is not a small group. There are nearly 500,000 disabled people within the ESA WRAG, almost half of them with a mental and behavioural disorder, including learning disabilities and autism. These are individuals who will need time and proper support to make it back to the labour market. Far from help with their struggles, the ESA cut will add to debt, stress and anxiety, making their journey more difficult, if not impossible, and pushing them into further poverty.

Most noble Lords here today will have received a raft of substantial and authoritative briefings from charities and other organisations whose opposition to this particular cut is remarkably consistent. We should thank them for their defence of disabled people, particularly their robust challenge to the proposition that cutting the WRAG is a work incentive. We also now have the benefit of the formal review of the proposed reduction in the employment and support allowance and how it will assist the Government’s declared aim of halving the disability employment gap.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1608

The report was led by the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Grey-Thompson, at the request of a group of charities. We should acknowledge their commitment and the clarity of their conclusions and recommendations. I hope we will hear from them and have the benefit of their expertise during this debate. One of their central recommendations was to reverse the removal of the ESA WRAG component and the equivalent payment in universal credit. This is precisely what our amendments will do. But the review is not just about objecting to the change that the Government are seeking to impose. It sets out a series of recommendations focused on helping the Government to help more disabled people move closer to and into work. Perhaps a recast amendment on Report might better capture this broader approach.

I will not attempt to outline each of the 11 recommendations of the review in the hope that others will cover some of them but of particular significance is the call to redesign the WCA, focusing on a holistic approach which understands the barriers to work that people face, and ensuring that this information is used to provide appropriate support. Not only did the review find no evidence that the £30 a week WRAG component is acting as a disincentive to work, or that reducing the payment will incentivise people to seek work, it received evidence to the contrary—that the reduction would hinder rather than help people take steps towards work.

The extra money individuals in the WRAG receive is to recognise that they are likely to be unemployed for a longer period than those receiving JSA, and that once out of the workplace disabled people find it more difficult to return. The typical time for which claimants were expected to be in the WRAG was two years; for those on JSA it was much less. This loss of resources is being imposed on a range of other measures that can affect disabled people—council tax support cuts, the bedroom tax, the benefit cap for those not on DLA/PIP—and benefit freezes are in place. The review reminds us why this extra income is so important to disabled people and why the threat of its loss—as well as the reality, should it come about—is so hazardous to their health and well-being.

Your Lordships should read the report and understand the strains of daily living for so many of our fellow citizens—individuals who would welcome the chance of moving towards and into work if we would only invest in tailored and personalised programmes to make this a reality for them. I urge the Government to reject these misguided cuts, listen to the views of those whose lives would be made a misery if they proceed, and instead grasp the opportunities that could genuinely transform the lives of so many disabled people.

Baroness Manzoor: My Lords, we on these Benches strongly oppose the question that Clauses 13 and 14 stand part of the Bill, along with the opposition party. At Second Reading, I made it clear that these were the clauses that the Lib Dems were most concerned about—in a Bill which had little to be joyous about.

Clause 13 legislates to reduce the amount of money that new claimants receive within the employment and support allowance work-related activity group—known

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1609

as ESA WRAG—by £29.05 per week or nearly £1,500 a year. This cut is mirrored in Clause 14 for the equivalent payment in the new universal credit, called the limited capability for work group. As the Disability Benefits Consortium says, this is despite the fact that the WRAG is specifically there to provide support for disabled people who are assessed as being not fit for work, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, stressed.

In his summer Budget, in order to make savings on welfare expenditure, the Chancellor announced that he would reduce the level of benefit paid to claimants in ESA WRAG to the value of jobseeker’s allowance—JSA. How can that be right? These are people who have been deemed to be ill. This is despite the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others have said, the people receiving ESA WRAG and the limited capability for work element of universal credit have been independently medically assessed by government assessors as being too ill to work—not by their own GPs but by independent assessors, and that is really key. These are people with disabilities—nearly 500,000 people; people with long-term health conditions such as mental health and behavioural disorders—nearly 250,000 people; and people with cancer or progressive motor neurone illnesses such as MS and Parkinson’s disease.

I entirely agree with Macmillan Cancer Support, the Disability Benefits Consortium, Mind, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability, Scope, the Rowntree Foundation and many others—they cannot all be wrong—that reducing the amount of money received by individuals on ESA WRAG and the limited capability for work element of universal credit will make it harder for individuals to cope with the financial impact of their condition and to afford what they need to support their recovery. The additional pressure to seek work when not fit could detrimentally impact on an individual’s health and recovery. I have seen this, having worked in the NHS for many years. This could actually move them further from the labour market. That is not what the Government want to do. The negative impact of returning to work before individuals are fit to work compromises them and is unsustainable, and may lead individuals to require welfare support for longer or indeed move them into the support group, where they do not work again. That cannot be right.

The Government’s impact assessment states:

“Someone moving into work could, by working around 4-5 hours a week at National Living Wage, recoup the notional loss of the Work-Related Activity component or Limited Capability for Work element”.

Frankly, that is unbelievable, as people in this group have been found not fit for work. That is the hub of the whole issue. Clauses 13 and 14 have no place in a caring and compassionate society and I urge that they be removed from the Bill. It is far better that the Work Programme trains advisers better to understand conditions so that the most appropriate support and help can be given to individuals to return to work. Barriers to employment such as lack of job opportunities, attitudes and transport difficulties must also be addressed by the Government, and employers should be given the necessary training and support to enable them to take on more disabled people so that people can return to work when they are deemed fit to do so.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1610

I urge the Minister to exempt people on the ESA WRAG and that Clauses 13 and 14 do not stand part of the Bill. The Government must give people hope and support. I fear that these measures are merely about the Treasury wanting to demonstrate that it can achieve a budget surplus—how wrong is that?—without, I fear, the Treasury thinking about real people and real lives, and the impact it will have on those people. This is not about figures on a balance sheet but people who will find the impact of these clauses deeply damaging, as they will affect their life chances. This is not just about the young. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that these clauses are not sensible or morally right.

6.30 pm

Lord Low of Dalston (CB): My Lords, I gave notice that I wish to oppose Clause 13 standing part of the Bill and I now wish to do that in support of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor. Clause 13 would cut ESA by just under £30 a week, or £1,500 a year, for new claimants in the WRAG group from 2017. The Government’s reasoning is that the £30 a week uplift from the JSA level constitutes a disincentive for those in the WRAG group to seek work and that cutting this premium would remove that disincentive.

As I hope many noble Lords will by now know, with my noble friends Lady Meacher and Lady Grey-Thompson I have just carried out a review of this policy approach and its impact on the Government’s objective of halving the disability employment gap. The review was published yesterday; copies have been distributed and I hope that many noble Lords will have had a chance to look at it. I place on record my thanks to the disability charities which supported the review, including Leonard Cheshire Disability, Mind, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Autistic Society, the Royal Mencap Society, Scope and RNIB, of which I am a vice-president and I declare my interest. I also thank the 30 or so organisations which responded to our call for evidence and the nearly 200 disabled people who gave us eloquent and often very personal accounts of their lives and aspirations, and the hardships that they face.

Our review found no evidence to support the Government’s approach. The Government’s impact assessment contains no detail on how disabled people might be affected and seems to be concerned only with savings to the Government, which would amount to £640 million by the end of the Parliament—not a massive amount as these things go. The Government rely principally, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, on a 2005 OECD study which deals only with unemployment generally and not the unemployment of disabled people at all, which is generally reckoned to be very different, as evidenced by the intractability of the disability employment gap. Officials have referred us to a 2010 study by Barr and others in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, which suggests that there is a significant negative association between benefit levels and employment. But the authors commented that:

“While there was some evidence indicating that benefit level was negatively associated with employment, there was insufficient evidence of a high enough quality to determine the extent of that

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1611

effect. Policy makers and researchers need to address the lack of a robust empirical basis for assessing the employment impact of”,

the 2010 welfare reforms.

The central recommendation of our review is therefore that the proposal to reduce payment to claimants in the WRAG group to JSA level should be put on hold in order to carry out a thorough assessment of ESA and the impact that any reductions might have, not only on disabled people, their families and carers but on other services that might be affected, such as social care and the National Health Service, as well as knock-on effects on other benefits. As we conducted our review, I was hugely impressed by the wealth of expertise possessed by the organisations which came and gave evidence to us. If the Minister were to establish a working group to tap into this expertise, I am sure that these organisations would be only too happy to help him get this matter right.

ESA is an income replacement benefit for those assessed as not fit for work. It is important to stress this point, as the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, has done. They are assessed as not fit for work; they may have been assessed as capable of undertaking activities potentially leading to work but the essential point to grasp is that they are in the WRAG group because they are not currently fit for work. Moreover, the extra £30 a week is there in recognition of the fact that it takes much longer and costs more for disabled people to take steps towards work, during which time savings run down. It is important to remember that this is a group many of whom are already in or close to poverty.

According to the Office for National Statistics, 31% of disabled working-age adults live in poverty compared with 20% of non-disabled adults. Currently, roughly 60% of people spend approximately two years in the WRAG group. This may be even higher for some groups. For example, blind and partially sighted people are five times more likely than the general population to have had no paid work for five years. This compares with 60% of people spending roughly six months on JSA. As I have said, the extra payment is there to reflect that but also to recognise the additional costs that disabled people face when looking for work or undertaking work-related activities. Respondents told us about increased travel costs, as well as the cost of assistive technology. Of course, DLA and the personal independence payment are designed to cover additional costs associated with disability. However, respondents reported that DLA and PIP are not enough to cover all their costs—it is only a contribution to them—and we know that only around 50% of individuals in the WRAG group also receive DLA or PIP in any case. Individuals would really struggle to cover those additional costs if the ESA WRAG component is removed.

Our review took place in the context of the Government’s welcome aim to halve the disability employment gap. It concluded, however, that the proposed cut to ESA would hinder rather than promote this aim. One respondent said that they would need to cancel their phone and broadband contracts, with the result that,

“I would not be able to make calls regarding workplace volunteering that I want to do”,

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1612

in order to help them get back to work,

“or make job applications when I am ready. I would also no longer be able to afford smart clothes which you need for work”.

An important contribution came from the Disability Benefits Consortium, which surveyed 500 disabled people in the ESA WRAG group. Almost half of these—49%—said that such a cut would mean that they were not able to return to work so quickly. The disability employment gap is a long-standing structural one, exacerbated by failed back-to-work schemes—the Work Programme in particular—as well as societal and employer attitudes. It is not generous benefits that are holding people back.

Our review identified a very close connection between the proposed cuts and people’s mental health, which, in addition to the human cost, would lead to people being pushed further from the labour market. As one respondent commented:

“Losing this money would make me more worried and stressed which would impact my mental health considerably turning the whole thing into a vicious circle”.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, stressed this point very eloquently. It is important because the current ESA WRAG group consists of close to quarter of a million people with mental health problems as well as learning disabilities.

In summary, our review concludes that there is no evidence to suggest that disabled people can be incentivised into work by cutting their benefits. Instead, the Government should look to improving support by making it more tailored to people’s individual needs as well as working with employers to tackle attitudinal barriers. If the Government could only do this effectively, and halve the disability employment gap, that would really make dramatic inroads into the size of the ESA bill.

Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 50, moved by my noble friend Lord Patel. I also support the call of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for Clause 13 not to stand part of the Bill. I put on record my thanks to the charities that worked tirelessly to produce what I think was an excellent report for the review, and in particular Rob Holland of Mencap. I also express my gratitude to the hundreds of disabled people who took time to share with us their stories, experiences and concerns. I thank the Minister for a very helpful meeting yesterday focusing on our review.

We need to be conscious of the fact that the cut in the income of WRAG claimants is just one of many cuts to the benefits of sick and disabled people, as has become apparent through these debates. The OBR report shows that there will be a steady fall in the percentage of GDP spent on benefits for sick and disabled people between now and 2020, which I would have thought is something the Government should be rather ashamed of. This is being achieved of course through freezing a number of benefits, tighter criteria for eligibility for PIP—which will lead to 500,000 disabled people no longer qualifying for the benefit by 2018—cuts in the level of disability benefits and, of course, the cut in WRAG benefits by £30 per week, the subject of Clause 13.

Amendment 50, if agreed, would in my view ensure that Clause 13 would never be implemented. There is no doubt in my mind that the implications of this

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1613

clause for the mental and physical well-being, the financial situation and, more particularly, the ability to return to work of WRAG claimants will be devastating. The first problem concerns the inadequacies of the WCA—the work capability assessment. Many people in the WRAG should very obviously not be there, and should be in the support group instead. One of the problems, but a very important one, is that the WCA is a functional assessment that does not take any account of the real world, in which employers simply will not employ someone with a progressive disease who is already assessed as unfit for work—someone with Parkinson’s disease, for example. The early stages are fine, but then they would be assessed as fit for work. In addition, over half of WRAG claimants have mental and behavioural disorders, including learning disabilities, autism and mental illnesses, which generally fluctuate in their severity.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists reported new research by the universities of Liverpool and Oxford which estimates that the increase in WCA assessments may have led to 590 additional suicides, as well as an increase in mental health problems and in the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants. One has to think about the cost of all these downsides. While some WRAG claimants are, no doubt, quite properly preparing to return to work, many are being inappropriately required to jump through all sorts of work-preparation hoops and, no doubt, being required to make dozens of fruitless job applications, even if they are aware of the electronic screening of such applications, which I learned about from the Minister, most helpfully, yesterday.

Many of these claimants are having to try and come to terms, at the same time, with the fact that they have long-term mental or physical illnesses, terminal health problems or unpleasant symptoms which in many cases will only get worse, as well as with the misery of thinking that no employer may ever take them on again—quite a lot for someone to cope with.

6.45 pm

According to Parkinson’s UK, nearly 8,000 people with progressive and incurable conditions, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and, worst of all from my point of view, motor neurone disease, were placed in the WRAG between October 2008 and September 2013. I suggest that a high proportion of those 8,000 should simply not be there. The MS Society claims that between 2008 and 2014, 4,900 people were placed in the WRAG with a prognosis that work was,

“unlikely in the longer term”.

If these very sick people can perform the conditionality activities, maybe this would be acceptable, or even perhaps helpful in some cases. But to deny them the ESA rate of benefit as well seems simply cruel. I would be grateful for the Minister’s comment on the 8,000 figure, which came from a freedom of information request, and the implications for the planned cut in the WRAG benefit level.

So my first plea is that the Government urgently consider introducing a real-world employability test into the WCA. I know that it is somewhat countercultural but it seems important. The assessor should be required to ask themselves whether an employer will, realistically, employ the person within a finite period. Whatever

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1614

functions the claimant has, if the answer to that question is no, the claimant simply should not be placed in the WRAG.

The aim of ESA is to replace the earnings of the disabled or sick person to enable them to meet their costs of living—food, clothes et cetera. As other noble Lords have said, the longer someone is out of work, the greater the preponderance of poverty, as clothes, household items and other things need to be replaced. The Minister is of course perfectly well aware of all that. I understand from the MS Society that a study by Scope revealed that on average it costs an extra £200 a week to live with a neurological condition. Does the Minister accept that figure? It is rather a striking one.

There is no evidence that the reason WRAG claimants spend longer on benefit than JSA claimants is in some way related to the fact that ESA is at a higher level than JSA. As my noble friend Lord Low said, the OECD study quoted by the Government did not consider disability, to my knowledge. There are instead very obvious reasons for the difficulty in finding work: if the claimants are not fit for work, employers, perhaps understandably, will not wish to take them on.

Most people with a health problem actually want to work, in my experience, and are perhaps more motivated than others who take their health for granted. People with Parkinson’s, for example, know that they may well face heavy bills for social care and want to work as long as possible. A small-scale study found that people with Parkinson’s, on average, worked for 3.4 to 4.9 years after diagnosis. Parkinson’s UK estimates that 30% of people with Parkinson’s are wrongly placed in the WRAG because the WCA fails to take account of their real-life situation. Again, that 30% is a very striking figure.

Some 53% of appeals against WCA decisions are successful. Will the Minister agree that this alone makes clear that yet another radical shake-up of the WCA is needed? Relevant to Amendment 50 is the fact that the impact assessment for Clause 13 fails to mention the known problems with the WCA or the impact on the health outcomes and needs of sick and disabled people. The Equality and Human Rights Commission expressed its concerns about the cuts to disabled people’s benefits in its correspondence with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. What has the Minister done to address those particular concerns?

When an MS Society survey has revealed that over a quarter of claimants have already had to cut their spending on gas or electricity and nearly a third have cut the amount of food they eat, it is unthinkable that this further £30 per week cut in disabled people’s incomes can go ahead. We need to have a clear analysis of the consequences for the mental and physical health of claimants, their financial situation and again, most particularly, their ability to return to work, since that is apparently the objective of all this. The study will need to be independent of government.

There are further implications of the proposed WRAG benefit cut down the line. Disabled lone parents stand to lose £3,500 a year if they are put on the JSA rate of WRAG and later claim universal credit because, at least for a time, they can return to work. This huge

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1615

amount comprises the loss of £1,500 from WRAG and the rest from the work allowance. I find such a loss for disabled lone parents utterly unjustified and cruel. I am told that such parents will be no better off under UC than able-bodied lone parents. I actually find that quite hard to believe but am told that it is the case. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on that.

I hope that the Minister will heed the warnings of the speakers in this debate and think again about the WRAG benefit cut. At the same time, will he heed the calls for a specialist employment support programme? I hope that the plans for personal employment coaches will include specialist disability training with some considerable breadth. One problem we have had for years is that a disability adviser may know about one or two disabilities but not the full range and certainly not physical and mental issues, drug addiction and so on. If this is a viable option, it might begin to move claimants in the right direction towards work.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, my Amendment 51 would amend the Welfare Reform Act 2007 to include people with mental health problems in the ESA work-related activity group on the list of those exempt from the higher levels of conditionality introduced in the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

Research shows that people with mental health problems have a high “want-to-work” rate yet a high unemployment rate. Almost two-thirds of people with severe mental health problems are unemployed. Conditionality—that is, mandating people to take part in generic work-related activity such as CV-writing classes—has become an undisputed part of back-to-work support. Yet the use of the conditionality for this cohort of 250,000 people who are unwell because of a mental health problem is based on no evidence at all. The current schemes are clearly not working for people with mental health problems and the use of conditionality is not balanced with effective support. Less than 9% of people with mental health problems have been supported into work through the Government’s flagship back-to-work scheme. The evaluation and report by the Department for Work and Pensions, as well as much independent research, shows that support is not tailored or personalised, and people with mental health problems are not supported as they should be. As well as being ineffective in helping people back to work, these mandated schemes make people’s mental health worse. Mind’s survey of more than 400 people with mental health problems showed that 83% on the Work Programme or with Jobcentre Plus said that it made their mental health worse or much worse.

My amendment would take away the conditionality part of support for people with mental health problems which requires them, under threat of sanction, to attend support whether or not it is effective or appropriate. Removing this pressure would mean that providers and Jobcentre Plus must give better support, relationships between claimants and advisers—so vital for successful back-to-work programmes—would improve and those with mental health problems would feel less pressure, which ultimately helps in their recovery.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1616

Some may question how by removing the conditionality regime from people with mental health problems their employment outcomes will improve. The rationale here is that schemes which are voluntary for people with mental health problems have far better success rates at supporting them into work than the generic back-to-work schemes. If we want to halve the disability employment gap, we should create systems that work. To take one example, there is WorkPlace Leeds, which is part of Leeds Mind. It works solely with people with mental health problems. No conditionality is used and the support is linked with people’s health as well as employment outcomes. Crucially, the advisers have a real understanding of mental health, the type of symptoms people experience and their specific barriers to work. In 2014-15, the programme secured paid employment for 32% of its clients, some of whom had not been in work for many years before starting the scheme. That is a far higher rate than the 9% achieved through the Work Programme nationally.

Why would my amendment work? Being placed under pressure and burdened by the fear of sanctions has a negative impact on people with mental health problems. When we think about the types of symptoms such people experience—intrusive thoughts, fear, distress, hearing voices, low mood—it is clear that the additional pressure and stress of being mandated to attend certain activities is particularly difficult, especially when these activities do not address the individual’s mental health condition, as is often the case. By removing conditionality, people with mental health problems will gain more choice and control over the back-to-work support they receive. This is one of the most basic principles of supporting people with mental health problems, as outlined in NICE’s guidelines, which say that shared decision-making should be a key part of any service. It does not seem to make sense to have guidelines based on evidence about how best to support people with mental health problems but then ignore them and look to something else.

As I said earlier, people with mental health problems have a high want-to-work rate and there is no evidence to show that conditionality achieves success at supporting them into work. We all want the same thing: to help more people into work. This amendment would provide a real opportunity to transform realistically the support into work offered to people with mental health problems. I hope that the Minister and the Government can accept my amendment.

Lord Layard (Lab): My Lords, I speak to Amendment 52, the purpose of which is to remedy an extraordinary anomaly. We have nearly a million people on ESA due to depression or anxiety disorders, which are extremely treatable conditions. However, only about half these people are in any form of treatment. Most of them have never even had a diagnosis. None of this makes sense and the solution is obvious: we must help these claimants into treatment if we possibly can.

The key services here are those belonging to the national system of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, otherwise known as IAPT. Last year, these services saw and assessed 900,000 people and roughly half of those treated recovered during treatment. The average cost of treatment was about £1,000, which

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1617

compares strikingly with the cost to the Exchequer of a person being on ESA for a year rather than working, which is £8,000. Obviously, we want as many as possible of these claimants to enter into treatment with IAPT, for both their sake and that of the taxpayer.

Amendment 52 proposes that as soon as claimants are awarded ESA by virtue of mental illness, they should immediately be referred by the jobcentre to the local IAPT service for assessment and treatment—unless they are so ill that they need to be referred to step 4 care, in which case they should be referred to secondary services. The proposal does not involve compulsion. It says that the claimant should be offered assessment and treatment. However, if this is organised in a friendly way which assumes that this is simply what happens next, most claimants would accept it—though they should be offered the opportunity to say no.

Let me review a number of possible problems that have arisen in the discussion of this proposal—the proposal is not new. First, why is the referral to a psychological service rather than to something else? The answer comes of course straight from the NICE guidelines. Those say that all people with depression and anxiety disorders, which are the most common forms of mental disorder, should be offered modern, evidence-based psychological therapy. Clearly, that is what we need to bring about. The secondary mental health services are too busy with people who are more severely ill to be able to provide that to the vast body of people suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. That is the reason why IAPT was created and why it should have a key role in helping mentally ill people to get better and back into work. People can self-refer into IAPT, so there is no problem in having the jobcentre facilitate that without delay.

7 pm

Secondly, can IAPT deliver that volume of treatment? The answer is that it has the duty to do so. The NHS has a duty to treat any other medical condition and it is the same for this one. IAPT has had generous funding in the spending round, so there need be no waiting times, since the NHS accepts that employment issues are a legitimate ground for clinical priority. That is another important point. In my personal experience of trying to organise pilots for the kind of arrangement proposed in the amendment, it has always been the jobcentres, not the NHS, which have declined to co-operate. That is why I am proposing this legislation.

However, it has been argued in some quarters that for patients with employment issues, it would be better to develop a separate system of mental health care, with special emphasis on employment. That would be a very costly way to deal with this problem, because we already have a system in IAPT that has good quality-control mechanisms and outcome measurement, which would be much more difficult to re-establish elsewhere—so why not build on what we have? IAPT is constantly improving itself including, with government encouragement, increasing the use of digital methods. With adequate funding it could provide the required employment support.

I urge the Committee to adopt the very simple proposal embodied in Amendment 52. As I understand it, this Bill is primarily about saving money on welfare.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1618

If we think about it, there are other ways to do that than just cuts, and this would be a very effective way of saving money on welfare. I know that the Minister cares deeply about these issues and I hope he will support the principle of this proposal. I am sure there are details that can be improved, but I do hope it will be possible to work with him to develop this into a government amendment. I know that the Minister and his department are envisaging a White Paper on these issues next year, but next year is next year. This proposal has been around for about four years now. In the mean time, millions of claimants have suffered unnecessarily and have cost taxpayers billions in the process. I believe that this proposal has pretty much universal support and I urge the Minister to implement it forthwith.

Lord Lansley (Con): My Lords, I rise briefly to contribute to this debate. I am pleased to have the opportunity to do so and especially to follow the noble Lord, Lord Layard. At Second Reading, he kindly made a favourable reference to the work we did together in the previous Parliament to undertake the national rollout of improving access to psychological therapies. It was very important to do so and he has just eloquently explained to the Committee why it is particularly important in this context of giving people with mental health problems who want to work the opportunity to access treatment that takes them closer to work and gives them opportunities to return to work. I remember visiting just such a centre in Reading and seeing the success it achieved in enabling people with mental health problems to access treatment and get back to work much faster than would otherwise have been the case.

I confess to the Committee that I do not exactly support Amendment 52. There must be very limited circumstances in which we seek statutorily to provide for when the NHS should give treatment to particular individuals or sets of individuals; we have to be extremely careful. I applauded otherwise pretty much everything the noble Lord had to say. I was glad he was able to reference the support in the spending review for increasing access to talking therapies. I thought we had already established the fact, but further evidence has shown that talking therapies are at least as effective, as treatment, as access to medication. It has been reported that medication is no more effective than talking therapies, but I would put it the other way round—namely, we have discovered that talking therapies are at least as effective as medication, and often without the drawbacks associated with the dependence on medication that can emerge. I am very pleased that we were able to work together on the national rollout for the IAPT programme that was announced, if I recall correctly, in February 2011. That was published alongside the first national strategy for mental health, No Health without Mental Health.

I also want to speak to Clauses 13 and 14 stand part, which I very much support. As I said at Second Reading, one issue we need to focus on is helping people with disabilities into employment. Though I mean in no sense to be patronising, I think the report published yesterday, Halving the Gap?, is an extremely helpful contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Low and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Grey-Thompson. It is an extremely good report, very clearly

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1619

set out. Its focus is absolutely right—namely, how do we reduce the gap between employment for disabled people and the access to employment that is being achieved by those without disabilities? We are doing this in the context that this country is an economy creating jobs as fast as the rest of Europe put together. Not only are we creating jobs and bringing down unemployment and the claimant count, but we are doing so with a record level of vacancies in the economy. We have the opportunity for employment, therefore, to a degree that we can be proud of; the question is whether we are giving people the appropriate support into work and creating the right incentive structure. I make no apology for saying that all three are important: opportunities for work, which I believe are there; support into work; and incentives for work.

I do not want to go on at length, but this is important. There is a great deal of material in the Halving the Gap? review that sets out some of the ways in which support for people getting closer to employment and taking it up can be improved. It is important never to think about legislation without understanding that, from the Government’s point of view, it is often conducted with legislation on the one hand and administrative action on the other. This is very much one of the areas where the administrative changes are potentially at least as important as the legislative changes. In that context, the Work Programme has worked very well in some respects, but not so well in others—though it is of course a payment-by-results programme, and it was important that it was. Together with the evidence on work choices—which, although small in scale, had some benefits, as has been referred to—it is important to look at those examples, the work in jobcentres and all the other evidence, to see how, in particular, we can design the health and work programme from 2017, which will coincide with the changes proposed in this legislation, to ensure that it helps people in the work-related activity group into employment.

I listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Patel. I completely understand his point about giving time. We have to be very careful to understand that we are talking about people in the work-related activity group who may need more time than would customarily be true for those on JSA, but this is not a situation in which the more time is taken, the better it is—far from it. We are looking for people on a part of employment and support allowance to move towards employment and for progress to be made in that respect. That is where we need to focus and why the support that we give is extremely important. The reshaping of that support, which I know is contemplated alongside these legislative and benefit changes, has to happen.

I also mentioned incentives, which are important. It has been said that there is no evidence. One tends to think that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but in this instance the reports from the OECD 10 years ago and from the Barr and others study refer to evidence of a relationship between the generosity of benefits and the employment implications. I do not think we should be surprised by that. The disparity between people’s income out of work and in work is an essential part of understanding the incentive structure. Where that disparity is small, the incentive

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1620

to work will be less. Where the disparity is greater, the incentive to work will be greater. We have to be clear that that is prima facie. It is not a matter of looking for evidence; we know that it is demonstrably true and there is plenty of evidence of it.

I completely understand that we also need to understand this in the context of people with disabilities and disability employment, but understanding that people with disabilities have special requirements and special constraints should not constrain our understanding that incentives must be aligned with support and opportunities. If the incentives are wrong—if they do not align with the support that we give in encouraging people to be in work or to be continuously moving towards work where they are capable of doing work-related activity—the system will not succeed.

The review was absolutely honest. It said that unemployment and economic inactivity have been stubbornly high for many years, so this is not a situation where we should simply say that what is happening now is good enough. We want to achieve change, and strengthening the incentive structure, alongside the support structure, is an essential part of the overall policy. Therefore, we need to keep the legislative change and the support changes administratively.

I shall make one final point. I was listening carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Low. While the review said that there is no evidence that the generosity of benefits has an incentive effect in relation to employment, there is something of a contradiction within the terms of the review. It is said in the review that there is a difficulty associated with current claimants—they will not be new claimants necessarily moved off accessing the additional support under WRAG in future—who go into employment and might then come back on to the WRAG element of ESA. Logically, because people asserted to the review that they would be disincentivised from taking jobs because they would not be able to go back on to the ESA WRAG element on their previous basis, by implication people were saying that the level of financial support under ESA is in itself a disincentive to taking work. We have to be clear that, within the review itself, there is a sense in which people are openly acknowledging that the level of benefits relative to work is an issue in terms of incentives.

Lord Low of Dalston: I understand the point the noble Lord is making, but I put it to him that the contradiction he points to arises only if you decide to remove the extra ESA WRAG component for new claimants. If the benefit remains the same, there is no disincentive in moving off work and moving back again.

7.15 pm

Lord Lansley: I entirely understand what the noble Lord said. That is indeed true. The point I am making is that the assertion made in evidence to the review that the noble Lord led was that under those circumstances people would be disincentivised from taking work because they would lose access to the level of benefits that they currently enjoy under the WRAG ESA. In a sense, that was completely contrary to the argument that the level of benefits does not in itself have an incentive effect.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1621

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Would the noble Lord agree that the Department for Work and Pensions has always understood that dilemma and therefore, particularly for disabled people, has sought to reduce the risk of going into work, in terms of both the claimant’s health and the viability of the job, by having extensive linking rules? The linking rule that if you cannot sustain a job, you can go back on to your previous level of benefit allowed a lot of disabled people, under the New Deal for Disabled People, to springboard into work.

Lord Lansley: The noble Baroness is drawing me into a debate that I was not intending to enter into. My point was not about whether having a structure in which those who are currently on ESA WRAG and then go into employment and come off it should lose the benefit after 2017. My point is that within the terms of the review, contrary to the argument that is being presented that there is no incentive effect of the level of benefits relative to work, people are arguing that that is not true and that there is a disincentive effect in going into work if the level of benefits is higher.

I shall conclude on that point. It seems to me that we need to be operating on each of these areas. As a Government and a country, we are doing well in providing opportunities for employment. If we do the right thing in terms of support, we can give people with disabilities greater access to those employment opportunities that are increasingly available and, most importantly, give people access to the support. The review gives very good material for the Government to continue the process of thinking towards what that structure of support should be to be of the greatest possible benefit for people with disabilities.

Baroness Manzoor: Surely with his health background the noble Lord is not saying that people who have been deemed to be sick and ill should be given jobs and should be made to go into employment. That is not what he is saying, is it?

Lord Lansley: No, it is not—and I do not think that we should construe an incentive structure as being coercion. It is precisely what it describes. We are talking about the level of relative benefits and if people fall properly into this category—I have not got into the question of whether the work capability assessment is accurately placing people in the WRAG ESA rather than the support group—they should be in a position to work. It is not about coercion. Sixty-one per cent want to work, but not enough of them are getting work. We should have incentive and support structures that help them to get that work and we should make sure that the incentives do not get in the way but support this. It is nothing to do with coercion.

Baroness Hollins (CB): My Lords, I have put my name to a number of amendments in this group and shall speak briefly to them. As my noble friend Lady Howe explained, Amendment 51 would mean that people with a mental or behavioural disorder would not be mandated to take part in inappropriate activities that might be detrimental to their mental health and that the current sanctions would no longer impact

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1622

on them. It is crucial is that support is tailored to the individual and that it addresses a person’s main barriers to work. For people with mental health problems, I cannot stress enough how important a good relationship between a claimant and adviser is and that people must be involved in decisions being made about them.

With respect to Amendment 52 I will restrict my comments to the provision of mental health care. This amendment would mean that anyone on ESA with a mental health problem as their primary condition—as the noble Lord, Lord Layard, explained—could be fast-tracked to IAPT for therapy. That needs to be debated, but Mind is concerned about the broader implications this could have for the many people who are already on waiting lists for talking therapy.

A survey of 2,000 people from the We Need to Talk coalition last year found that one in 10 people had to wait over a year between being referred for talking therapy and having an assessment. Waiting this long can be incredibly damaging. The findings also showed that while waiting for talking treatments, four in 10 people harmed themselves, one in six attempted to take their own life and at least 6% of people ended up being admitted to hospital.

People are already trying to get treatment, but services are just not meeting demand. We would need to know what types of treatments people with mental health problems on ESA are already receiving, are likely to be waiting for or have already received. So it is difficult to know what effect this amendment would have.

The final point to tease out of this debate is to raise caution around any suggestion of mandated treatment, although I am sure that this is not the intended effect of this amendment. I am pleased to speak to the amendment to highlight the wider issues around access to mental health services. Anything we can do to improve access to mental health services for all is absolutely a good thing. The Minister defended the proposed changes to the ESA WRAG during discussion of Amendment 34 earlier this week by saying that the Government are doing more than any previous Government to improve access to mental health services —presumably those provided by the NHS. However, mental health is still the Cinderella service in healthcare and is not just the responsibility of the NHS. If I were a Minister in the Department of Health, I would be extremely worried that these proposed DWP policies would lead to an increase in or a worsening of mental disorders for people in this group and that they would lead to additional demand and escalating costs.

I will also speak briefly on the stand part debate for Clauses 13 and 14. My noble friend Lord Rix sends his apologies. It is quite a task for him to come into the House at the moment due to his current health problems, so he chose to focus his input on his excellent Second Reading speech.

I welcome the review published by my noble friends Lord Low, Lady Meacher and Lady Grey-Thompson and I urge the Minister to look closely at it. I particularly welcome the review’s inclusion of people with a learning disability. The story of Sam Jeffries, who himself has a

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1623

learning disability and whom I met yesterday at the launch of the review’s publication, where he spoke, gives a human face to the concerns that noble Lords are expressing.

Sam is a 25 year-old man who lives on the Isle of Wight with his nan. He is currently in the ESA WRAG group. He has a moderate learning disability and some joint problems, so he finds it difficult and painful to walk other than for short distances. He uses some of his personal budget to go to a Mencap day service, which he enjoys, although he would like to work. He has a support worker, who is paid partly from his personal budget and partly from his benefits. Sam says that if he were to lose another £30 a week it would make a massive difference. He would struggle to pay for everything. It would mean not going to his day service and being unable to afford the taxis he sometimes needs to get around. He would like to work part time if he could but there are not many jobs around, and sometimes 50 people are competing for each job.

I have worked with people with a learning disability for much of my life, and they need the support to look for work and ongoing job support. This should be the Government’s focus, not cutting benefits. To do so will ruin the employment prospects of many people with a learning disability while at the same time affecting their social life, their health and their self-esteem.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD): My Lords, I will briefly speak to Amendment 52, to which I have put my name. In so doing I express my strong support for Amendment 51, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, which aims to improve back to work support for people with mental health problems. I also signal my strong support for the arguments that have been put forward that Clauses 13 and 14 should not stand part of the Bill.

I will briefly speak on Amendment 52. The noble Lord, Lord Layard, has already argued very powerfully that any person with a mental health problem as a primary medical condition awarded ESA in the WRAG group is immediately offered assessment and treatment in a local IAPT service. That is very important, and I will explain why I added my name to that amendment. It is about offering that treatment, not about it being compulsory—that is an important point to grab hold of, given the discussion we have had.

There is now plenty of evidence which shows that when people experience mental health problems, getting the right type of talking therapy as early as possible can make a huge difference to their recovery and their ability either to return to or enter work, and to prevent them becoming ill again. It is a very good and helpful idea that people with mental health problems in the WRAG group should get that immediate treatment. I accept that there are issues to work through here, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, drew attention, about making sure that in doing this we do not build some sort of tiered approach to mental health services, which could create difficulties.

The key point I want to underline, which was made so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, was that an approach like this could save a very large

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1624

amount of money on welfare. From listening to the debate so far, I have understood from the Government that that is what the Bill is primarily about. There is an opportunity to do that here, so we should not pass it up. I also offer my services to work with the Minister to find a way to make this amendment work, because it has great potential.

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health recently published a report which suggested that the work capability assessment process might have led to the large number of 600 extra suicides. It says that its study,

“provides evidence that the policy in England of reassessing the eligibility of benefit recipients using the WCA may have unintended but serious consequences for population mental health, and there is a danger that these adverse effects outweigh any benefits that may or may not arise from moving people off disability benefits”.

It goes on to say:

“Although the explicit aim of welfare reform in the UK is to reduce ‘dependency’, it is likely that targeting the people living in the most vulnerable conditions with policies that are harmful to health, will further marginalise already excluded groups, reducing, rather than increasing, their independence”.

After reading about that report I tabled a Written Question, which produced a very prompt Answer from the Minister. I am grateful about the time it took, although the Answer was not exactly informative. The Question was:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will release data relevant to the assessment of whether Work Capability Assessment tests are connected to the incidence of suicide or mental health problems of disability benefit claimants; and if so, when”.

The reply was brief and to the point:

“The information requested is not available”.

I can understand that but surely, the issue having been raised, it is incumbent upon Government to make inquiries into the report that the journal produced and to satisfy themselves and others that the process of the work capability assessment is not resulting in ill effects upon those undergoing the process of such assessment to any significant extent, let alone, of course, the dreadful extent of suicides resulting from it. I hope that having regard to the thrust of the amendments in this group, the Minister will indicate that the Government will again look into, or rather look into—clearly they have not looked into the possibilities here—the impact of that assessment, taking into account the report to which I refer. It is surely imperative that in recasting the system we take every opportunity to ensure that minimal harm is occasioned by the processes that are instituted to distribute the benefits in question.

7.30 pm

Lord Blencathra (Con): My Lords, in introducing his amendment, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said quite early on that he wanted to put the proposal on hold until the Government could demonstrate that it would work. I think, therefore, that the problem with Amendment 50 is that it simply asking for the Secretary of State’s best guess or estimate. I suggest that we cannot demonstrate that it will work until it is implemented in practice.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1625

The Government have already given an assessment of the policy change. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor said that ESA,

“was supposed to end some of the perverse incentives in the old incapacity benefit, but instead it has introduced new ones. One of those is that those who are placed in the work-related activity group receive more money a week than those on jobseeker’s allowance, but get nothing like the help to find suitable employment. The number of JSA claimants has fallen by 700,000 since 2010, while the number of incapacity benefits claimants has fallen by just 90,000. That is despite 61% of claimants on the ESA WRAG benefit saying that they want to work”.—[

Official Report

, Commons, 8/7/15; col. 333.]

I simply say as someone with a little bit of experience of politics that, if that is the judgment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made, I cannot see any assessment by the Secretary of State coming to radically different conclusions. Also, even if the Government employed 20 experts, I think we would end up with 40 different opinions of how it might work in practice. I believe that the policy is right in principle but it is crucial to make sure that it works in practice.

As far as saving money is concerned, I would simply say the following, although it may not be popular in all quarters. When I see, participate in and indeed benefit from some of the extraordinary medical improvements that are being made daily, I cannot understand why expenditure on disability benefits has risen so much—by £2 billion in the last Parliament. I cannot believe that as a country we are becoming more disabled, but maybe we are.

It is clear—and everyone agrees—that most people who are disabled want to work if they can. We have to ensure that they are correctly assessed and given the right incentives and help, and that employers are constantly reminded of their responsibilities. Despite some criticisms of the WCA, I think that it has been getting a little better under each Government. I know nothing about cancer or mental health but I have some experience of progressive illnesses, where one can move from being fit to work and able to do practically anything to having limited capacity for work or work-related activity, to being completely unfit for work.

Let us take as examples Parkinson’s disease and MS. I have been pretty lucky. Some people go downhill very quickly but there are huge variations, and we cannot have a policy of one case fits all. Some people may be able to walk okay but are hit by terrible fatigue, rendering them unfit to work, although they otherwise seem physically capable.

I had to retire as an MP in 2010 because I no longer had the stamina to do the phenomenal 80-plus hours a week which MPs have to do and are expected to do, as well as completing a phenomenal amount of travelling. Even though I got round all the flooded areas of Cumbria in 2005, I would not have managed it last weekend because I do not have the energy for that now. Of course, I accept that parliamentarians are not a very good test group for people in the country; nevertheless, there are tens of thousands of people who can work in some way but need to drop down a gear or two and do lesser work than they did in the past. Those in the WRAG must not be left to fester until they move inexorably on to the support group. Of

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1626

course, there are many tens of thousands with a disability who have limited capacity but will not progress to the unfit-to-work-at-all category.

Finally, I want to comment on employers and their responsibility. I support the work of the Disability Confident campaign but we have to educate and pressure employers more. I do not think that employers are institutionally prejudiced against disabled people but they are a bit afraid—they are not quite sure what to do. The same could be said of many of your Lordships. When those of us in wheelchairs approach a door, most noble Lords want to jump and help to open it for us, but then they are slightly afraid. Will we get stroppy that they have tried to help us, because we want to be independent and do it ourselves? It is also a bit like men opening a door for a lady. Is it a nice gentlemanly gesture or is it some sexist put-down?

Employers are in a similar position. They want to help but they do not quite understand disability. They are afraid that there may be a drop in efficiency in the business or that their other employees will complain that they are “carrying” the disabled people. They are afraid that they may be more subject to industrial relations disputes or be taken to a tribunal if they have not tweaked the facilities in exactly the right way. They know that there is a wide range of disabilities but they think, “We’ll put in a wheelchair ramp and we might be able to employ someone who’s deaf, though we’re not sure we can employ someone who is blind or partially sighted”. It is much easier to find an excuse not to employ disabled people. I believe that we can do a huge amount more to educate employers that it is a safe risk to take and that people are capable of doing certain things—not every task in the company, but certain things.

I conclude by setting an example. I have a little bee in my bonnet about Parliament. We in this House are protected by the most wonderful doorkeepers, who will throw themselves in front of a speeding bullet to save our lives. However, there are guys and women coming back from Afghanistan with no arms or legs. When we see them running and winning marathons, it is clear that they are as fit as fiddles. We should employ some of those people in this House as well—perhaps as doorkeepers and in other capacities—because, if we in Parliament do not set an example and show that you can take on people who are apparently severely disabled but can do either a full-time or a part-time job, then we cannot harangue employers that they are failing in their responsibilities.

Without going into all the details of the work incentives and the £30 reduction—those have been given by the experts on all sides who have spoken today—I simply say that I think we can get the incentives right. If we can achieve the end result of making employers recruit more disabled people, then this policy is worth testing in the medium term.

Baroness Doocey (LD): My Lords, reading the text of Clauses 13 and 14, as with so much legislation, does little to reveal the huge impact that this change is likely to have, but the impact is going to be very severe for disabled people. The argument that cutting benefits for disabled people will incentivise them to work is, frankly, insulting. As many other noble Lords have

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1627

said, disabled people want to work if they can. People with progressive illnesses would love to feel remission and resume their careers, and people struck down with serious illnesses or mental ill-health would give almost anything to be well again.

That is why it is so iniquitous to claim that this cut in support will somehow incentivise a return to employment. Surely it would be more honest for the Government simply to say, “If £73.10 a week is enough for people on jobseeker’s allowance, it’s enough for people on employment and support allowance with limited work capabilities”. But that is not correct.

First, if you are fit and healthy, unemployment is expected to be short term, although for many sometimes it is not. For the majority it is possible to scrimp by on subsistence living for a few weeks or months while looking for a job, but if you are not fit for work and have a debilitating long-term condition, then it could, sadly, be years and years before you get back into work, if at all. Scraping by without buying clothes or replacing worn-out household items becomes increasingly difficult, as does dealing with increased prices. The further impact on physical and mental well-being is extraordinary and depressing for many people.

There are also costs associated with being sick or disabled: the costs of travelling to medical appointments, of extra heating, of specialised diets and of mobility aids—all the things that are required because of your illness or disability. These extra costs significantly impact on disabled people’s savings, which makes managing on low incomes for very long periods incredibly difficult.

Finally, there are the huge barriers faced by disabled people who try to find work once the Government have assessed them as able to return to work or to enter the workforce. The vast majority of employers, whether meaning to or not, look at disabled people and see only a problem. They seldom see the opportunity to benefit from their determination and talent. The Government have recognised this problem with their commitment to tackle the disability employment gap. Sadly, in Clauses 13 and 14 that commitment has been translated into a snatch-and-grab raid against sick and disabled people, who need support to find work when they can, not the threat of no food on the table if they cannot.

I sincerely hope that the Government will reconsider this proposal, which would have the most severe consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, I want to talk about the review of ESA, which I was involved in, along with my noble friends Lord Low and Lady Meacher. As they have said, the review found no evidence to back up the assertion that the £30-a-week component is acting as a disincentive for sick and disabled people to work. The barriers to work for disabled people are long-standing and far more complex than that, involving myriad reasons.

It its response, Parkinson’s UK gave an excellent example of how the disincentive argument falls down:

“Given that Parkinson’s is a progressive condition, it is not possible to ‘incentivise’ someone to look for work, or to return to work more quickly by cutting their ESA support. Parkinson’s UK

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1628

is particularly concerned that the impact assessment for Clause 13 of the Bill suggests that someone could ‘by working around 4-5 hours a week at National Living Wage, recoup the notional loss of the WRAG component’. This is not a realistic possibility for anyone with a progressive condition who has already been acknowledged as too unwell to work”.

The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, made some interesting points about employing disabled people in this House. I suggest that we go a little further. I would like more disabled people to work for the Department for Work and Pensions, and to work on WCA and PIP assessments. Who better to assess who can and cannot do something than a disabled person with such a condition?

The work capability assessment is an important part of this debate. Although the review did not set out to look at it specifically, a huge number of respondents wrote to tell us about it—the horrific experience they had had and the fear, stress and anxiety the process had caused. Between December 2014 and June 2015, 53% of everyone who had appealed their ESA fit-for-work decision had it reversed, which tells us a huge amount about the accuracy of the assessment. I am certain that many would agree with me. Indeed, the Work and Pensions Select Committee has recommended that the Government,

“undertake a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process”.

Getting the assessment right and ensuring that disabled people are offered the right support to help them take steps towards work is fundamental.

Many respondents told us that the proposed £30-a-week cut would hinder their ability to undertake work-related activity, training, work placements and volunteering, as well as to get to and from work-focused interviews or indeed job interviews. Transport is often inaccessible for disabled people, particularly those with mobility difficulties or who, like me, are wheelchair users. A survey carried out by Leonard Cheshire found that 59% of respondents had been refused access to public transport because of their disability. I estimate that at least once a month I am refused access to public transport. I declare that I am a member of the board of Transport for London, and although it is great that all buses have ramps, only one wheelchair per bus is allowed, and only one wheelchair per train carriage—by which I mean there is one wheelchair space in standard class and one in first class. If that space is taken, I cannot get on the train. Only one in 10 Tube stations on the Central line is accessible, and even the Jubilee line, which is more modern, still has many problems with access.

I should be delighted to take the Minister on one of my journeys round London. As much as I do not like non-disabled people using wheelchairs, because it does not give them the true lived experience, it might be interesting for the Minister to try it to see how much longer it takes me to get round London, to get to work and to just live my life.

Some 64% of disabled people have to cancel or miss appointments because of public transport not being accessible; 75% said they found using public transport “quite difficult” or “very difficult”. The solution might be taxis, but they can be expensive, and often more so for disabled people. Just last week, three taxi drivers on Parliament Square drove past me instead of picking

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1629

me up. According to Scope, two in three wheelchair users say they have been overcharged for taxi or private hire vehicle use because of their wheelchairs. DLA and PIP may go some way to offsetting this—but so does the £30 a week of the WRAG component. It is there to recognise the fact that it can take disabled people longer to secure work. Indeed, 10% of unemployed disabled people have been unemployed for five years or more, compared with just 3% of the non-disabled population. It also goes some way to reflecting the fact that it is more expensive to travel to training and work experience placements, as well as to job interviews.

Many respondents highlighted the negative impact such a cut would have on health and well-being. It was highlighted specifically by mental health charities and respondents with mental health difficulties, who talked about the mounting stress and anxiety that comes from being pushed into, or deeper into, poverty. Macmillan Cancer Support talked about cancer patients who, in many cases, have to cut back on food and heating in order to make ends meet. The MS Society suggested that people might have to cut back on medication and prescriptions, as well as specialist equipment. This would undoubtedly move them further from the workplace, but also presents a very serious threat to their health.

7.45 pm

Organisations such as Mencap and the National Autistic Society talked about the risk of social isolation. One respondent said:

“I would have to cancel my phone and my internet which would make it really hard to contact people in my life who support me such as my social worker, parents and doctor”.

This is terrible on a human level—we all need a social life and want to be included in society—but it will also impact on work readiness. People will have reduced social networks. They might miss out on job opportunities, but also the support from family and friends encouraging them to get back into work.

The review urges the Government to cease the £30-a-week cut for disabled people in the ESA WRAG group, and the cut to the equivalent payment under universal credit. It would contradict the Government’s aim to get more disabled people into work and would hurt some of the most vulnerable in society. Instead, the Government should focus on improving support for those who can take steps towards work. The review was provided with a raft of examples of good practice and suggestions. In summary, they involve better practical employment-related support, better support to enable people to manage their health condition or impairment, better expertise and understanding from work coaches, and working more with employers so they understand how to support disabled people.

I hope that the Government look at this in next year’s White Paper, announced at the spending review, and choose to focus on better support, rather than simply cutting benefits, which are a lifeline to many.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has made a very powerful case as to why cutting benefits actually makes it harder for people, particularly disabled people, to find work.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1630

That has also come out in other research. For example, Community Links has said that if you push people into survival mode, then they just have to focus on surviving.

I want briefly to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who talked about the incentive structure. We have heard a lot about the famous OECD quote, which has been bandied back and forth. I thought it might be worth reading out the paragraph from which that quote came:

“A policy of no welfare would be the best solution to maximise labour supply, if equity issues were not a concern”.

I shall miss out the next sentence, but it does not change the meaning:

“distributional issues are a primary concern when designing policies to help people return to self-sufficiency through work and, in this context, studies show that in-work benefits can maximise social welfare”.

The message coming from the OECD report that has been quoted so often is in fact that the answer lies in improving support for those in work—which, of course, the Government are making worse—rather than cutting benefits for those out of work.

Another OECD report that came out only two years earlier, on incapacity benefits—so I am surprised the Government have not mentioned it—called Transforming Disability into Ability, refers to the benefit traps and incentive problems that the noble Lord talked about. However, it said:

“The evidence concerning such types of benefit traps is inconclusive”.

I suggest that it remains inconclusive, and the evidence prayed in aid by the Government does not support the case for this really quite savage cut in benefits for disabled people.

Lord Freud: Clauses 13 and 14 remove the work-related activity component and limited capability for work element for new claims for ESA and universal credit. These clauses do not affect the support group component, the UC equivalent or the premiums that form part of income-related ESA.

ESA was introduced by Labour in 2008, and the work-related activity component was originally intended to act as an incentive to encourage people to participate in work-related activity and therefore return to work quicker.

The original estimates were that far more claimants would move into work. Indeed, the White Paper Raising Expectations and Increasing Support: Reforming Welfare for the Future, published in 2008, stated that the then Labour Government aimed to reduce the number of people on incapacity benefits by 1 million by 2015. However, only around 1% of people in the work-related activity group leave the benefit each month, so clearly the existing policy is not working as intended and is failing claimants.

While financial incentives are only part of the answer on what impacts on claimant behaviour, they are an important part. This has been recognised for a long time. Going even further back, a Green Paper, A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People to Work, published in 2006, highlighted that most people who came on to incapacity benefit expected to work again but many

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1631

never did; that the longer a person remained on benefit, the less chance they had of leaving; and that incapacity benefit reinforced this by offering more money the longer that someone was on benefit. I am sorry to say that although that Green Paper was talking about incapacity benefit, a similar sentiment could now be expressed about ESA. Too many people with disabilities and health conditions are still being excluded from the world of work and not fulfilling their ambitions. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley for pinpointing this issue.

I turn to the international evidence on incentives that we have been bandying around. The OECD report argued:

“Financial incentives to work can be improved by either cutting welfare benefit levels, or introducing in-work benefits while leaving benefit levels unchanged”.

The findings cover the whole population, and although not specifically focused on the disabled population, do not indicate that such incentives would not apply.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: I just read out the whole paragraph that that quote is taken from, which makes it quite clear that it sees the answer as lying in improved in-work benefits, not in cutting out-of-work benefits.

Lord Freud: I am not now looking at recommendations for action. I am just looking at what evidence we have that incentives either way work for the disabled community because that is the issue that noble Lords are querying. Let me go on. A paper by Barr et al, published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in 2010, asks:

“To what extent have relaxed eligibility requirements and increased generosity of disability benefits acted as disincentives for employment?”.

It finds that eight out of 11 studies reported that benefit levels had a significant negative association with employment. To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, about the level of the evidence, while they state that they cannot quantify the size of the effect, they conclude that there definitely is one. The most robust study in that paper, by Hesselius and Persson from 2007, demonstrated a small but significant negative association. The final paper, by Kostøl and Mogstad from 2012, is about evidence from Norway regarding a positive incentive structure allowing disabled claimants to retain more of their benefits when moving into work, which resulted in more claimants starting work. The study shows the impact of financial incentives on disabled people able to undertake preparation for work or work itself, which is a group synonymous with our WRAG population.

Lord Low of Dalston: I am sorry to have been a little slow in coming back to the Minister; it took me a little while to find the reference. With regard to the Barr study, the Minister will recall that I pointed out that Barr et al said that, with regard to whether there was a negative association between benefits and employment rates, there was insufficient evidence of a high enough quality to determine the extent of that effect.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1632

Lord Freud: That is the point that I just made: they could not determine the extent but they could determine the direction. Lastly, the Sheffield Hallam report, which the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned, says that it is unlikely that they will move into employment because of the obstacles that they face. However, we are providing additional support. Indeed, that report did not look specifically at the WRAG.

A number of noble Lords have questioned why we are suggesting that claimants who have been found to be “not fit for work” should be expected to be able to work. I stress that ESA claimants in the work-related activity group have been found to have limited capability for work. The same is true for universal credit claimants. This is very different from being unfit for any work and, although they are not required to look for work, ESA explicitly recognises that claimants may be able to undertake some work via the permitted work rules.

On the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about adding employability to the WCA, the Secretary of State announced his intention to look at how assessments can be better geared towards those preparing for work. As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, we have announced a White Paper to set out our reforms to improve support for people with health conditions and disabilities.

There may be limitations on the type and amount of work that people in the WRAG can do, and they may also need workplace adjustments, but employment is not ruled out. This is an important distinction; we know that many people with disabilities and health conditions are already working, and many others want to do so. The move to universal credit, an in-and-out-of-work benefit that supports small or fluctuating amounts of work, means that many of the barriers in the current system that claimants face when moving into work are removed. Those are the kind of issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, was talking about with regard to linking rules. This is particularly helpful for people whose health condition means that they can work only some of the time.

To pick up the points from the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about the way in which some of these costs are used when either finding work or being in work, travel-to-work costs can be met by the Access to Work scheme, and travel-to-interview costs can be met by the flexible support fund, which is run in JCP. The Government are committed to ensuring that disabled people are able to participate fully in society, and we have set out our ambition to halve the disability employment gap. It is a duty of the Government to support those who want to work to do so and, as I have already mentioned, most people with disabilities and health conditions want to work, including the majority of ESA claimants. Some 61% of those in the WRAG tell us that they want to work, and we mean to put those people’s ambitions at the centre of what we do.

The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and touched on by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, about whether employers would employ disabled people, we recognise that that is an issue and have pushed the Disability Confident campaign. We have Access to Work behind that, not to speak of the incentive structure of universal credit to get people into work.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1633

In 2012, the UK had a disability employment rate gap of 34 percentage points, which was higher than that in France and Germany, with 19 and 22 percentage points respectively. Therefore, we know it is possible for us to do better and ensure that people with health conditions do not get trapped in the benefits system. That leads to why we are committed to halving the gap.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: Could the Minister give us some assurance about the impact of the 60% reduction in the departmental expenditure limit between now and 2020? I hear what he says, but to get the kind of service that he aspires to needs specialist help and experienced people, who will be harder to find because the department will have less money to pay them.

8 pm

Lord Freud: That is a massive question. The short answer is that because universal credit is a much more efficient benefit to administer, we are able, in practice, to put more people on the front line to support those who we need to support. The department has been working very hard, with very precise ways of helping quite a lot of new people doing quite a lot of new things; work progression is one part of that and disability another.

The changes I have been talking about will be accompanied by new funding of up to £100 million per year by 2020-21, which is part of where the money is coming from, to help claimants with limited capability but some potential for work to move closer to the labour market and, when they are ready, to get back into work. We will provide more details on this kind of support next year. In the Autumn Statement, the Government announced an increase of nearly 15% to help people with health conditions return to and remain in work.

There is a great deal of interest in this House and elsewhere about how we will make this employment offer. We will set up a task force, which will include external experts, disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to make sure that we do this in the best possible way.

In this context, I will pick up one other point from the noble Lord, Lord Low, who said that the Work Programme had failed disabled claimants. More generally, the Work Programme clearly has had some astonishing outcomes. In this area, it has taken a group that is traditionally very difficult to get into work and, in the latest cohort, it has got one in 13 people into work for at least three months since joining the scheme. That figure is higher than the expected level of one in 14, and has effectively doubled since the Work Programme started. Then, when it was trying to find its way into what was working, the figure was one in 25.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, raised the issue of mental health, which has been of acute concern to us for a number of years and is an issue that I personally have pushed for five and half years now. We now have a programme of £43 million over the next three years to build our evidence on what works for those who have been long-term unemployed and have mental health conditions. A range of pilot schemes is going through to test what actually works. I am enormously

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1634

proud of getting that kind of money to this kind of issue, which I suspect has been but a dream for previous Ministers in my position.

Let me address the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, which seeks to do two things. First, it requires the Secretary of State to publish a report, before subsections (2) and (3) come into force, on the impact that these provisions will have on those affected by the change, particularly the impact on a person’s health, finances and ability to return to work. A similar amendment was laid and debated in the other place. We have, of course, already published our assessment of the impacts, which was made available on 20 July. I can assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to a fair tax and welfare system, and that every individual policy change is carefully considered. How the changes affect individuals will depend on their circumstances, including the nature of their illness or disability, which can vary considerably.

I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that the proportion of people in relative poverty who live in a family where someone is disabled has actually fallen since 2010. PIP is the benefit that provides a contribution towards some of the extra costs arising from a long-term health condition, and that is protected. I know that the noble Lord is particularly concerned about the effect of this change on people with cancer. I am delighted to be able to confirm that the vast majority of people with cancer claiming ESA are in the support group. This includes anyone who is either preparing for, receiving or recovering from chemotherapy or radiotherapy that will significantly limit their ability to work. Only a small proportion of individuals whose initial diagnosis is cancer will be placed in the WRAG. Employment can obviously play a vital part in supporting an individual’s recovery. Macmillan itself recognises this and stated in a report:

“Many people who are working when they are diagnosed with cancer would prefer to remain in work, or return to their job, during or after treatment”.

I will pick up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra about Parkinson’s. On its website, Parkinson’s UK recognises that many people with Parkinson’s continue to work for many years after their diagnosis, although to do so they may need changes to the way in which they work. I also need to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that no one who has motor neurone disease is currently in the WRAG.

As other noble Lords have mentioned, we are now committed to replacing Work Choice and the Work Programme with a combined work and health programme, so the support systems should now start to ratchet up, benefiting from the considerable amount that we have learned in the last few years.

There is a large body of evidence to show that work is generally good for physical and mental well-being and that, where their health condition permits, sick and disabled people should be encouraged and supported to remain in or to re-enter work as soon as possible. That is why an important part of this change is the extra resource that we are putting into support to help bring that about.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1635

The second part of the amendment seeks to require that any regulations made under this section of the Bill be made under the affirmative procedure. However, as these measures are being debated extensively throughout the passage of the Bill, I am not convinced that requiring further debates in both Houses on the regulations is a necessary or, indeed, appropriate use of costly parliamentary time.

I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that those who move from support to WRAG will be protected. It will not be regarded as a new claim, as he asked.

I turn now to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollins, Lady Tyler and Lady Howe, which seek to remove work rate requirements from claimants with a mental or behavioural disorder and refer them to IAPT. As already stated, there is a large and growing body of evidence over the last decade showing that work can keep people healthy as well as help promote recovery if someone falls ill. This includes mental health. By contrast, there is a strong link between those not in work and poor health. We also know that the majority of ESA claimants in the WRAG want to work.

At this point I would like thank the noble Lord, Lord Low, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Grey-Thompson, for the report that I received yesterday. They brought it to me, and I read it with great interest. I am particularly struck by the impact that being out of work has on people’s health—and that is, of course, the reason that we have announced our intention to have a White Paper. We will continue to monitor the impact of this change over time through regular national statistics.

Amendment 52 was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, and my noble friend Lord Lansley. We recognise the barriers that people can face, which is why we are committing these resources to help them find what works best for them. I agree that access—and particularly early access—to treatment services can be crucial to achieving recovery. I genuinely support this part of the agenda, and the noble Lord, Lord Layard, knows that I do, but I do not believe that this particular Bill is the right mechanism to achieve these ends. The Secretary of State does not have the power to offer NHS services to claimants. Even if he did have that power, devolved Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have had power over the organisation and budgets of the NHS within their jurisdictions since 1999, so in practice this amendment would be constitutionally impossible.

I should like to conclude—noble Lords will be relieved to hear—by reminding the Committee that the Government committed in their manifesto to halving the disability employment gap and improving the support we provide to people with mental ill-health and long-term health conditions. The change to ESA and universal credit is an important part of that, so I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and support the proposition that Clauses 13 and 14 should stand part of the Bill.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1636

Lord Patel: My Lords, we have now been talking for about two hours and seven minutes, with some 17 speakers. We cannot claim that we have not given enough time to this group. I do not want to prolong the discussion; I am tempted to take this opportunity to engage with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley—for which I have been waiting for a very long time—but I will wait a little longer. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part, whether they addressed my amendment or the other amendments. I sincerely appreciate very much—I say that on behalf of all of us—that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, does listen to us and his response at length demonstrates that. I am encouraged by some of the things he said relating to my amendment and cancer patients, but I hope that others might have felt that some of the things he said were encouraging. I have no doubt that there are others who did not. I, and, I am sure, others, will read very carefully what he said, encouraged by the White Paper. I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 50 withdrawn.

Clause 13 agreed.

Amendments 51 and 52 not moved.

Clause 14: Universal credit: limited capability for work element

Amendment 53 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.44 pm.

Prüm: UK Opt-in

Motion to Support

8.15 pm

Moved by Lord Bates

To move that this House supports Her Majesty’s Government’s decision to opt in to the Prüm decisions and the related safeguards put in place in respect of access to data by other States.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, we are here tonight to debate the Prüm decisions, an EU agreement named after a small German town in which the original Prüm treaty was signed. Prüm is about the sharing, in strictly controlled circumstances, of DNA profiles, fingerprints and vehicle registration data with other countries in order to prevent and investigate crime.

Before I discuss Prüm in more detail, I wish to address concerns raised by the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee about the Government’s engagement on this matter. I apologise sincerely if we have left an impression of falling short of, or have actually fallen short of, what is expected of us. That certainly was not the Government’s intention

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1637

and we sought to make that position clear to the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. The Command Paper we have produced is a document of great detail—it is some 250 pages in length—and quality, and I hope that noble Lords have had a chance to look at it properly. None the less, I apologise for those shortcomings and will endeavour to ensure that this does not happen again.

Let me now turn to the decisions contained in Prüm. It is important to be clear what Prüm is and what it is not. It is not—and this is an important point to remember—a centralised EU database. It is, instead, a system by which the front end of an existing manual process is automated so that more information can be made available for checking. This means that it would be quicker and easier for our police to check the national DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration databases of 27 other member states, hugely increasing the reach of UK law enforcement. It is a system by which member states can find out whether a DNA crime scene profile is known to other countries, not after filling out manual forms, but automatically. It is a system by which the police, when arresting an individual, can ask other countries whether he or she is known to them by checking fingerprints. It is a system by which, in 10 seconds—rather than the months it can take at the moment—the police can find out details about a vehicle that is suspected of involvement in people trafficking. For DNA and fingerprints, Prüm responses are by way of a hit/no-hit system. Personal data are not exchanged as part of this process.

By way of example, for DNA, a crime scene profile is sent from one country to another, where it is automatically searched against the profiles held in that country’s database. If there is a match, the requesting country receives a “hit” report back. At that stage, no information is exchanged that would allow a person to be identified. Prior to any personal details being released, all hits must be verified scientifically. In broad terms, this is the same system for fingerprints, too. Hits are reported within 15 minutes for DNA and within 24 hours for fingerprints. With Interpol, the same manual process means the average time to report a hit is more than four months.

The House will be interested to know that we have run a small-scale DNA pilot to test the effectiveness of the Prüm decisions. I am delighted to say that that saw an impressive 118 hits, generating investigative leads for our police. That is nearly double the number of profiles our police sent abroad for checking in the whole of 2014. Crucially for the police, this is leading to the arrest of foreign nationals, which would not otherwise have taken place. They include an Eastern European arrested on suspicion of attempted rape as a direct result of the pilot; he is now in custody. Other cases have seen extradition papers requested.

However, noble Lords will be pleased to hear that the Government have listened carefully to the civil liberties concerns expressed by some and will ensure that stringent safeguards are in place. The Government will ensure that other member states can search against UK-held DNA profiles and fingerprints only for those who have actually been convicted of a recordable offence, thus avoiding innocent British citizens becoming

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1638

caught up in overseas investigations. We will also legislate to ensure that we provide demographic details only if the hit is of a scientific standard equivalent to that which is required to report a hit to the police domestically, meaning that the chances of a hit being wrong are lower than one in a billion, so almost eliminating the risk of false positives. We will provide demographic details relating to minors only if a formal mutual legal assistance request has been made. Finally, we will establish an oversight board that includes both the information and biometrics commissioners in order to ensure that Prüm operates in a just and effective manner.

We know Prüm to be an effective crime-fighting tool, and I have just outlined how we will make sure that it operates in a proportionate manner. It is for these reasons that I support us signing up to Prüm, and I commend the Motion to the House.

Baroness Prashar (CB): My Lords, I speak as the chairman of the European Union Home Affairs Sub-Committee which prepared the report to which the Motion in my name refers. For reasons that I shall describe later, the report has been prepared at great speed, and I thank all the members of the sub-committee and the staff both of the sub-committee and of the European Union Committee for their assistance. I also thank the Minister for his helpful introduction to the debate, and of course I accept his apologies. It is important that it should be recognised that there have been difficulties in terms of the scrutiny process.

The European Union Committee has scrutinised the UK Government’s position in relation to Prüm decisions since at least 2007. We subsequently considered the decisions in the context of the UK opt-out decision taken in 2013 and again in 2014. We said that failing to rejoin the Prüm decisions would mean that UK law enforcement agencies would no longer have automatic access to relevant databases in other member states, thus hindering investigations and prosecutions. The Home Secretary committed the Government to revisiting the question of whether the UK should rejoin Prüm before the end of this year, and said that it would be a decision for Parliament.

On 18 November 2015, the Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, stated that he did not have a specific date for the publication of the Command Paper or for the vote, but he also suggested that it would be helpful if the committee could report on the issues to help inform the two Houses. We took him on that suggestion. But having set us on this path, just a week later the Home Secretary laid the Command Paper and subsequently announced that a debate would be held in the Commons on 8 December and today in this House. The result was that we had barely 10 days in which to scrutinise a lengthy and technical Command Paper and to prepare our report, which was published on Monday this week. Having said that, I make it clear that we support the Government’s recommendation that the UK should rejoin Prüm, and I am delighted to note that last night the House of Commons supported the Government’s position by an overwhelming majority of 503 to 26. It should also be noted that senior law enforcement officers support rejoining Prüm.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1639

As the Minister has just said, Prüm allows member states to search each member state’s fingerprint and DNA databases through an automated system, and to have direct access to vehicle registration databases. In the case of DNA and fingerprint searches, while the initial search will be automated, no personal data are exchanged unless the member state conducting the search makes a follow-up request.

The benefits of Prüm both in terms of public protection and operational matters are clear. Currently, law enforcement agencies may make requests for sharing fingerprint, DNA and vehicle registration data through Interpol. The current Interpol processes do not require a timed response and a simple request may take months to process. Last night, the Home Secretary made reference to a case in which West Yorkshire Police undertook an investigation through Interpol where it took two and a half months for a match to be reported. In the mean time, the investigation ran up costs of £250,000. By contrast, the automated processes under Prüm set out mandatory times for responding to searches: 15 minutes in respect of DNA, 24 hours in respect of fingerprints, and just 10 seconds in the case of vehicle data. This speed allows law enforcement agencies to target their follow-up requests for personal data, and these requests are more likely to be accepted. Because of the increase in speed, the UK will also be able to make many more requests than it would be able to do currently. The automatic exchange of data relating to criminal investigations could therefore assist in the identification of serious offenders who might not otherwise be detected. It will speed up the process of investigation by eliminating lines of investigation or establishing the identity of an individual much earlier. This will save on the length and cost of such investigations and could lead to earlier arrests, thus preventing further crimes.

Prüm would also increase the intelligence capacity of law enforcement agencies. The regular flow of data is likely to shine new light on otherwise unsolved crimes. At present, there is no effective alternative mechanism for investigating volume crime; that is, cases where one individual commits a number of crimes. Only through Prüm can the bulk exchanges of data be made which help to facilitate the investigation of such crimes. Evidence also suggests that Prüm can help law enforcement agencies to identify patterns of crime or criminal associations that would not otherwise be apparent. Moreover, in the wake of the dire attacks on Paris last month, we are particularly conscious of the need to fight terrorism. Those attacks have been a reminder that terrorists operate across borders, therefore an increased capacity to identify individuals as early as possible, to conduct investigations and to detect patterns of international crime is essential in this fight.

However, Prüm is not without risks. We are particularly concerned that UK citizens may be identified as suspects of crime in other member states on the basis of false matches. The implementation of Prüm is likely to result in massive changes in how law enforcement bodies process data. While this will greatly help the police, the volume of data exchanged must come with safeguards. We must ensure that there is a balance

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1640

between law enforcement and the protection of civil liberties. We therefore support the Government’s plan to implement safeguards.

We welcome the safeguard which would limit searches by other member states of fingerprints and DNA samples to those who have been convicted in the UK. The UK has the largest database of DNA samples in the EU. We believe that it is right that this and other biometric data should not be available for inspection by other member states in the case of UK citizens who have not been found guilty of a crime. The Government’s proposal to adopt higher standards on the accuracy of DNA matches than the minimum stipulated in the Prüm decisions is also welcome. This will reduce the probability of false positives. We also support the additional safeguard requiring other member states to prove that they are investigating a crime of sufficient seriousness before the personal data of minors are shared. However, I ask the Minister for confirmation that the additional safeguards that the Government propose to implement will be consistent with Prüm, and will not lead to any infringement proceedings by the Commission against the UK in the European Court of Justice.

Finally, we recognise that the increase in the volume of data requests will have an impact on police resources and that there will be other costs. However, we believe that the additional burden will be outweighed by the benefits to law enforcement of rejoining Prüm. It would be helpful if the noble Lord could confirm that the cost of implementation is likely to be less than was originally anticipated.

The committee agrees with the Government’s assessment, which is consistent with the views we have expressed over a number of years, that rejoining Prüm would be in the national interest. We therefore urge noble Lords to support the Government’s Motion.

8.30 pm

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, outlined, although the UK was previously party to the agreement, because this Government decided to opt out of all criminal justice co-operation with European partners in May 2014 and were ill-prepared to opt back in to it when opting in to many other criminal justice measures in November 2014, we are only now considering this measure. The right honourable Keith Vaz MP said in the other place:

“Think of the number of criminals we could have caught, or potential terrorists we could have found if only we had joined a year ago”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/12/15; col. 924.]

Previously the Liberal Democrats had serious concerns about sharing fingerprint and DNA data because the police were retaining the fingerprints and DNA profiles of innocent people, some of whom had not even been arrested, let alone charged or convicted of an offence in the UK under legislation passed by the previous Labour Government. Because of the actions of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 made the holding of fingerprints and DNA profiles of innocent people illegal, save in exceptional circumstances. Having deleted innocent people’s records from the databases, we are far more relaxed about information contained within UK databases being shared with our European partners.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1641

Of course, there will be profiles of those arrested and still awaiting charge, or awaiting court cases on the database, so we also welcome the fact that only the subsets of the database containing the profiles of those individuals convicted of recordable offences will be shared with other EU countries.

We also welcome the fact that the higher UK scientific standards to ensure far more accurate fingerprinting DNA matches will be adopted, and that there is instant notification if there is a DNA or fingerprint match, but details of the pension identified are shared only once a manual request for that information has been made and once both sides are satisfied that the relevant criteria have been fulfilled. The Prüm decisions will also allow instantaneous checking of foreign registration vehicle marks, as the Minister said.

I have some sympathy for the Home Secretary, who finds herself in a bit of a dilemma on this—on the one hand, apparently positioning herself as the leadership candidate of the right of her party, and, necessarily if she is to maintain that position, to be Eurosceptic, but on the other hand apparently claiming that UK citizens are safer within the EU. She said yesterday in the other place:

“Recent events in Europe, particularly in Paris, have highlighted a very real need to co-operate with other countries in order to keep citizens safe and to hunt down criminals and terrorists”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/12/15; col. 914.]

Can the Minister confirm what the Home Secretary said yesterday: namely, that the exchange of information that opting into the Prüm decisions enables will make UK citizens safer, that the Prüm decisions are a European Union initiative and, therefore, that the Government believe that the UK is safer as part of the EU than it would be outside?

With the additional safeguards that the Government are proposing, we support the opting in to the Prüm decisions.

Lord Blair of Boughton (CB): My Lords, I think this will be the shortest speech I have ever made. It is absolutely clear that the majority of the law enforcement community in the United Kingdom has been outraged by the decision of the Government not to be in Prüm. If we are to come back into Prüm, that is fine. It will save lives. End of.

Lord Boswell of Aynho (Non-Afl): My Lords, this has been a short but illuminating debate, and I had not intended to participate. I rise first to thank the Minister for his generous apology about the misunderstandings that have arisen. They are not the first ones with his department but we hope that we will now have a better basis for understanding. Particularly on a matter on which we are entirely at one with the Government, it is helpful to have that confirmation in good order. The by-product of this rather accelerated procedure was that I had to take, on behalf of the Select Committee, executive action to approve it in order to facilitate this debate and get the Government’s timetable met as it needed to be. I regretted having to do that because we might have had more time for consideration of the issue. Of course, the merits speak for themselves in my view, perhaps subject to the safeguards that have rightly been called for.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1642

Before making two other comments, I shall say, first, in generosity to my sub-committee chairman, that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, has devoted a great deal of attention to this matter. It is highly technical and the House should be grateful to her and her colleagues for their input, and for that of the staff to this. It is not a simple matter that comes off the page. I have two other simple points. First, as a lay person, I understand that this will really allow for information to be available automatically and in real time to police officers who may be going about their business catching criminals. Frankly, if they have to wait months for that information they might as well not bother, so it will make a critical difference to their operational effectiveness in being able to see where there is a potential problem, and build that in just as they have access to the police national computer for UK-registered vehicles. It is particularly sensitive in relation to the Irish land border, where I know this has been highlighted.

My second point, which I make advisedly, is that this may be very useful to the UK—which is a proper motivation—but it is also, subject to safeguards, very useful for our colleagues in other member states of the European Union in terms of meeting information requests for their own criminal activities and their own law enforcement. My own rather simple view after recent events is that the more we can do together to ensure the safety and security of our continent as a whole, the more it will be to our mutual benefit.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, it was just under two weeks ago that the Government announced their intention to ask both Houses of Parliament to agree that we should rejoin the Prüm decisions, which are two European Council decisions under which the police forces of the EU member states are able automatically to share DNA, fingerprint and vehicle registration data. Since this is necessary for participation in the Prüm decisions, the Government also seek agreement that the United Kingdom rejoin the framework decision on the accreditation of forensic service laboratories, which recognises the validity of DNA and fingerprint analysis from other member states.

As has been said, yesterday the House of Commons debated and agreed to the Government’s proposal to rejoin the Prüm decisions. Would the Minister say whether there is a reason for the wording of the Government’s Motion before this House appearing significantly different from the terms of the Government’s Motion in the Commons?

The Home Office seems to have a poor record in the eyes of both your Lordships’ European Union Committee and the committee looking at statutory instruments over the way that it prepares and progresses important legislative matters that require consideration by those committees. Today’s matter is no exception. I was going to quote in full paragraph 2 of the introduction to the European Union Committee’s report that we are also considering in the debate, which was published just two days ago, but in view of what the Minister said in his opening comments I will not do so. I will, however, quote paragraph 3 of the report, which was much shorter and stated:

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1643

“It is deeply regrettable that the Home Office, following its mishandling of parliamentary scrutiny of its decision to opt into 35 justice and home affairs measures in late 2014, is now again treating parliamentary scrutiny in such a disdainful manner”.

Whenever we draw attention to the strong concerns about the failings or attitude of the Home Office expressed in EU Committee reports or reports from the committee considering statutory instruments, we are usually told by the Government that they will take, or have taken, steps to rectify the situation. Clearly, whatever those previous steps have been, they have not made much difference. I will wait to see what the response is this time from the Government on what action they actually intend to take that they have not taken already to avoid such situations in the future. The Minister did not address this point in his opening comments.

We should, of course, be grateful to the European Union Committee for the work that it has done on the Prüm decisions and for the information it has provided to the House. The European Union Committee has scrutinised the UK’s position on these decisions for the best part of a decade. In a report in the 2013-14 Session, the committee expressed concern that not rejoining the Prüm decisions would mean that UK law enforcement agencies would no longer have automatic access to relevant databases in other member states, hindering investigations and prosecutions—a concern supported, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair, said, by law enforcement advice.

The reason that the Government gave for not opting back into the Prüm decisions, along with 35 other Justice and Home Office measures, was because they had neither the time nor the money to do so. Would the Minister confirm that the sum of money we are talking about is just £13 million, which, frankly, seems a very low price for improving the security of our citizens—an improvement that the Government declined when they decided originally to opt out of the Prüm decisions?

We welcome and support the Government’s change of heart. The last Labour Government supported the Prüm provisions and we opposed the initial opt-out from these measures during the previous Parliament. Like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I, too, wonder how many additional criminals could have been caught, or potential terrorists found, if we had not opted out of these decisions. Certainly the pilot exercise undertaken by the Government involving DNA samples from more than 2,500 unsolved British murders, rapes and burglaries being automatically checked against European police databases in four other countries made an overwhelming case to opt back in. They were automatically checked in a matter of seconds, minutes or hours, compared with months at present through Interpol, which currently hardly strengthens the hand of the law enforcement agencies in promptly identifying and apprehending those responsible for national and international crimes.

Even though the Government have decided to drop their “time and money” argument on the Prüm decisions—or is it nearer the mark to say that the Government have now decided to put enhancing national security ahead of deferring to their own Eurosceptics?—

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1644

the Prüm application process and development requirements mean, as I understand it, that the UK will not be able to join before 2017 at the earliest. It would be helpful if the Minister could say a bit more about the timescale for giving effect to the decision that the Government seek tonight, including how long it is expected to take for the new arrangements under the Prüm decisions to become fully operational.

It is crucial that there is better and greater European-wide co-operation over the sharing of data and information, since criminals and terrorists do not recognise national borders when carrying out their serious and often lethal acts. There is a need, too, for safeguards to be established alongside these new arrangements as the Government propose, including against the potential for UK citizens to be identified as suspects of crime in another member state on the basis of a false match. It is also right that we send information abroad only about people actually convicted in the UK, although would the Minister say who will make the decision to share personal information if a match is made? We also support the appointment of an oversight board.

The safeguards are, of course, referred to in the lengthy business and implementation case. The Government’s intention is apparently to incorporate several of these safeguards, where needed, into domestic legislation, although there appears to be nothing in the Prüm decisions that needs to be transposed into domestic law.

Will the Minister confirm that what I have said is the case? Will he also indicate when the expected domestic legislation covering the safeguards is expected to come before the House? Will he give an assurance that this House will be able to debate the adequacy or otherwise of these legislative proposals that are to be incorporated into domestic national legislation, and that these legislative proposals will be consistent with the Prüm decisions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, also asked?

The proportionality test is mentioned in the implementation case but does not appear to be in proposed draft legislation. Is that the case—and, if so, why? Will the Minister also give some examples of the kind of situations in which the proportionality test would prevent personal information from being sent abroad due to the offence under investigation being insufficiently serious?

The manner in which the Government have handled this issue is unsatisfactory, to put it mildly. Explanations are needed from the Minister in response to the comments of the European Union Committee and its blunt view, for which there is a lot of supporting evidence, that this episode shows that the Home Office,

“is now again treating parliamentary scrutiny in such a disdainful manner”.

I appreciate the apology that the Minister has given, which makes the position a lot easier. However, I ask again that the Government now tell us what steps they are taking which they have not already taken to prevent a similar situation arising again, because this is not the first time we have been in this position. Frankly, I think that we have got past the stage at which words from the Dispatch Box are sufficient. I think that we need to know from the Government precisely what

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1645

they intend to do to prevent these difficulties that have occurred on more than one occasion in respect of Home Office matters and in respect of more than one committee of your Lordships’ House.

However, I repeat that we support the Government’s proposal that the United Kingdom should rejoin the Prüm decisions and the related framework decision on the accreditation of forensic service laboratories.

8.45 pm

Lord Bates: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for moving her Motion alongside the one which I moved commending the decision, and for presenting the report of the sub-committee on home affairs. I also pay tribute to the work done by that committee in an incredibly short time, but with great thoroughness. That work is extremely helpful as we move forward.

I shall deal with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, under the broad heading of how we can improve the way in which the Home Office works with your Lordships’ House and interacts with it in these matters. We have dealt with this issue before. The noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has been very patient with us and we have had a number of meetings with the clerks. We are conscious of existing commitments and the scrutiny of European decisions—matters contained in the Companion. We want to respect those, so those issues are improving at an official level. However, often this is a fast-moving situation, or it can be. For example, decisions on the speed of adopting the measure and on moving ahead at a quicker rate resulted from meetings of the Justice and Home Affairs Council which took place in November. Therefore, these are fast-moving areas but we want to improve our performance. One of the ways in which I believe we can do that is to have more meetings with the noble Baroness and the committee she chairs to discuss projects in the pipeline that are coming upstream. However, we are conscious that we need to improve our performance.

Lord Boswell of Aynho: That is a very helpful suggestion. I know from experience that where we have had informal discussions with the Minister’s department that has been useful and has not led to any form of “producer capture” or any other potential moral hazard. It is important to realise that it is not simply a matter of fast-taken decisions at the end of the process; this is often preceded by a period of stasis where nothing has happened. As the Minister acknowledged, it would be very much better if we could have a reasonably easy flow of work and some advance heads-up as to things that are coming through, perhaps on an informal basis, so that we could plan our response and get the whole thing considered in a better timetable instead of this stop and start which has given rise to these difficulties in the past.

Lord Bates: I agree. I undertake that we will work hard on that. I realise that we will be held to account for our performance in these areas and it is right that that should be the case. As regards the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Blair, on why we did not do this a long time ago, we should also

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1646

remember that what we are implementing now is perhaps a better approach, as set out in the Command Paper, because we have had the benefit of that year and of the business case implementation trial. As a result, we were able to come forward with a number of stronger safeguards. The noble Baroness referred to the one on DNA requiring 10 loci matches rather than six or eight, and that was accepted. There is also the provision of an oversight board and the particular way in which we are working.

There is a great piece set out in the Command Paper, which I urge noble Lords to consider, all about how the technical side of this actually works. One reason why the cost has fallen for an IT project is because the Government have not been idle since indicating that they wanted to join. They have been building the biometrics gateway, which means that now all we have to do is add on the additional element to connect with the different countries. That trial process of connecting with France, Spain and Germany enhanced that process significantly as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked who would actually look at the transfer of personal data. The answer is the National Crime Agency. In terms of the timing, we expect it to be operational by late 2017. In terms of legislation, affirmative resolutions will come before your Lordships’ House. We have set out in the Command Paper what that draft resolution will be. But again, that is something that will be under review and will be brought forward, normally about six months before the point of implementation.

Another safeguard is the fact that we have the Biometrics Commissioner and the Information Commissioner, so people in this country will have the opportunity to appeal. If they feel that information is being released wrongly, they will have the opportunity to respond to that and seek redress. In terms of costs, we have received funding from the European Commission of some €10 million towards the cost of implementing this.

The noble Lord, Lord Blair, asked why we were joining now. The answer is that we are opting in at this stage. If we had opted in last year with the rest of the justice and home affairs package, our systems would not have been ready and there was a real risk that we would have been subject to infraction proceedings for being unable to meet the performance criteria that are set out, which would have cost a great deal of money as well. That was another reason why that happened.

Lord Rosser: The Government gave their reasons for the Prüm decisions not being among the 35 as time and money. Is the Minister really saying that the cost was such that it prevented the Government opting back in to the Prüm decisions earlier? Is he really saying that a Government who were determined to opt in and stay in as far as the Prüm decisions were concerned could not have done so in less than five and a half years—or what actually is now going to be seven years—during which this Government have been in office?

Lord Bates: These are not easy issues. As the noble Lord will know, the Labour Government signed up to this in 2007 and did not even put pen to paper between 2007 and 2010 on the Prüm decisions. This is not

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1647

straightforward. It is not as if we have not been doing anything. We have the ECRIS criminal records information-sharing scheme with our European counterparts. We have Eurodac, which is about border security. Of course, we have also signed up to the Schengen information-sharing system, Schengen II. These are all elements which further build the case, I am happy to say to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for how a key part of our security comes from working closely with our European colleagues. Sharing information of this nature will make us all a great deal safer. The fact is that we can do that in a European context, whereas when it comes to Interpol there are 189 members. The prospect of perhaps exchanging DNA-sharing databases with the Russians or one other member might be a little more difficult for us to propose in your Lordships’ House. The reality is that there are safeguards there and we are working with our European colleagues. We believe that the system being proposed—

Lord Blair of Boughton: I am immensely in favour of the decision that the Government have taken, but is it reasonable to say that it will take another two years? I really do not understand that decision. If the Minister was able to do so, I would like him to write to me and to others to say why it will take two years from now. He was talking about late 2017. We have seen the events in Europe. Why cannot the Government now advance this at speed? Two years is simply an unsupportable position.

Lord Bates: I hear what the noble Lord says. I would be very happy to set up a meeting with officials from the Home Office technology team who are working on this to explain the complexities. They are in part technological but are also to do with how we interact on devolved matters with other parts of the United Kingdom, where there are some particular sensitivities and agreements to be reached, for example with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Scotland. That is one reason why both those parties will be present on the oversight board. Rather than going into it here, it might be helpful to all concerned if that meeting were to be arranged. We could then hear and understand a bit more about the complexity of the task, which I am in no doubt is significantly complex.

We have set out in the Command Paper some of the processes that need to be gone through from a technical point of view but I am happy to set up a meeting so that we can assure ourselves that everything is being done, once the decision has been taken to implement this as quickly as possible. The European Commission also needs to undertake inspection visits to ensure that we are capable of meeting those stringent criteria so that that can happen. With all that, I am grateful none the less for the home affairs sub-committee’s support. I am grateful for the contributions of Members of your Lordships’ House and very happy to continue a dialogue on this, as we move forward to something which we all agree will improve the safety of the people of the United Kingdom and of Europe.

Motion agreed.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1648

Prüm: UK Participation (EUC Report)

Motion to Take Note

8.58 pm

Moved by Baroness Prashar

To move that this House takes note of the Report from the European Union Committee The United Kingdom’s participation in Prüm.

Baroness Prashar (CB): My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in the previous debate. I also thank the Minister again for his positive suggestions about how we can improve the scrutiny process, and welcome his suggestion of having a meeting to discuss the delay and why it will take until 2017. That will be extremely helpful. I beg to move.

Motion agreed.

Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

8.59 pm

Clause 15: Universal credit: work-related requirements

Amendment 53A

Moved by Baroness Manzoor

53A: Clause 15, page 14, line 30, at end insert—

“( ) in section 14 (claimant commitment), after subsection (5) insert—

“(6) In preparing a claimant commitment for a claimant, the Secretary of State shall have regard (as far as practicable) to its impact on the well-being of any child who may be affected by it.””

Baroness Manzoor (LD): My Lords, in moving Amendment 53A, I will also speak to Amendments 53C, 54, 55, to which I have added my name, and 62A. I apologise that I have so many amendments down but they have all fallen into one group, quite rightly, and I shall try to be as quick as I possibly can. However, they are important amendments.

Clause 15 marks a step change in the introduction of conditionality. For the first time, carers—who are usually women—will be required to work before their children are of compulsory school age, so before they are five. This amounts to around 220,000 carers, of whom over 75% are single parents, according to the impact assessment on the Bill undertaken by the DWP. It must also be noted that 64.4% of single parents are in work, so this is not about parents not wanting to work. Under Clause 15, the carers of three and four year-olds will be subjected to full work conditionality requirements, such as “work search”, which includes making applications and creating and maintaining online profiles. In addition, they will have the work availability requirement and must show that they are able and willing to take up paid work. Carers will also be subject to the full universal credit sanctions regime, which includes loss of benefits. That will initially be for a period of 13 weeks, but sanctions can be imposed for up to a maximum of three years.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1649

Gingerbread, which, as we know, represents single parents, agrees that it is therefore imperative that protections are put in place at jobcentres to ensure that the requirements imposed on these jobseekers by caseworkers are reasonable and flexible, to take account of caring and well-being responsibilities— this is not just about the caring element but the well- being of these children. A recent Citizens Advice report on the early implementation of universal credit has highlighted that although the claimant commitment should be a two-way conversation between a work coach and the universal credit claimant, many claimants did not feel this was the case. A third of the claimants surveyed had a caring responsibility, a health condition or a disability. More than 57% of this group reported that their circumstances were not taken into account when the claimant commitment was drawn up. Somewhere along the line, communication was lost.

The protection of children’s well-being in the drafting of a claimant commitment is written into the Welfare Reform Acts of both 2009 and 2012 but the provisions have yet to be commenced. My Amendment 53A seeks to introduce the same provision into universal credit and to probe the Government on why such a provision appears to have been dropped completely in this Bill. Can the Minister also say what adjustments will be made in the rules governing these parents, including what consideration will be given to the well-being of their children, and confirm that proper monitoring of this will be carried out?

Amendment 53C addresses the number of hours that carers of young children are reasonably expected to work. Regulation 88 of the Universal Credit Regulations sets out the number of hours a claimant is expected to spend searching for work or take a job for. This is normally 35 hours, but single parents with a dependent child under 13 years of age are allowed to limit the hours they work to their child’s school hours. My probing amendment is intended to explore what plans the Government have to alter Regulation 88 with regard to the hours of work search and job availability required of parents of pre-school children. The amendment proposes that those hours should reflect the hours of free childcare the parent is entitled to. Within that, one has to take account of the time the parent spends taking a child to nursery or childcare and collecting them, and therefore the time they are available for job search et cetera.

This is really important. As a mother of two children with a husband, I know how difficult it can be for somebody who is in a relationship with the father. How much more difficult must it be for a single parent? This amendment also highlights that there are issues around the differences in the availability of childcare across devolved Governments. I thank Gingerbread for helping to highlight some of these issues. I agree with it that we should make explicit in the Bill that parents of children aged three and four— think about this; at three and four these children are almost babies—should be expected to look for and be available to work only in those hours that reflect legal entitlement to free childcare for children aged under five available to parents in England, Wales and Scotland.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1650

My Amendment 62A would require a review of the application of work-related requirements to parents of children under five to be carried out within 18 months of the commencement of Clause 15. It is really important that there is monitoring of the reasonableness of the instructions and actions set out in the claimant commitment, particularly as the failure to comply will have a significant financial consequence on these families with young children. We have talked about reviews and we have not heard much that is positive on evaluation but it is really important to have some put in place to see what impact these policies have.

I support Amendment 54 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. The amendment is important because if there is no suitable or affordable childcare, a single parent should be exempted from Section 22(1). That is only fair and logical.

Amendment 55 is in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher, Lady Pitkeathley and Lady Hollins, as well as mine. If accepted, it would mean that responsible carers of disabled children aged three or four will be exempt from the provisions of the Bill unless appropriate childcare for these children can be secured. That is really vital. According to the Family and Childcare Trust’s annual report of 2015, 21 local authorities in England identified a shortage of places for three and four year-olds in their most recent childcare sufficiency assessments. If the child is disabled, the problem of finding appropriate childcare is further compounded. How is this issue likely to be addressed in childcare funding and provision? I beg to move.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD): My Lords, my noble friend has made my task much easier because she laid the ground very well. I am also grateful to Gingerbread for drawing this matter to my attention. This is a very important issue, not merely—as I will turn to in a minute—for the impacts to which my noble friend just alluded.

Following the spending review Statement, I am concerned that another million claimants will be brought into universal credit as it is rolled out in future. As the department knows, I am very conscious of changes to universal credit and anything that makes it harder or worse needs to be guarded against. I am now very concerned about the toxic effect of sanctions. As my noble friend just mentioned, we may get a public reaction to individual circumstances, particularly those of lone parents with three and four year-olds, that will prejudice the public against the whole idea of universal credit. That is a real and present danger, and I want to share that with the department. I hope it will reflect on it carefully. The numbers involved may be relatively small in terms of the 7.7 million households that universal credit seeks to serve but the more than 200,000 carers with three and four year-olds is a vulnerable group.

I declare an interest in that I am recently a grandfather. I am really too young to be a grandfather, but I have recently remembered how difficult it is to have young people—as my noble friend drew the Committee’s attention to a moment ago. So this is an important tactical and political problem, as well as a personal one, in terms of the people it seeks to serve.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1651

I can deal with this amendment quite briefly, because the only difference it makes to what my noble friend was saying is that, for the reason I have just mentioned, I think this is so important that I want to put it in the Bill. I am pretty long in the tooth as a legislator and know how difficult that is to justify. But it is so important to get the conditions right to make this work that it should be in the Bill—and nowhere else will do. It is right to say that the essential conditions to make this work are those where childcare is suitable and affordable. If we do not do that and guarantee it, the claimant with the three or four year-old will find it impossible to prioritise a work/life balance that makes sense for the family as a whole, as they can with the status quo. The work requirement, with a three or four year-old, particularly for single parents, is tough. It is tough anyway, but it is particularly tough for someone in those circumstances.

Perhaps most importantly, coming from Scotland as I do, is that the Government have no way of knowing what the government provision for childcare north of the border will be by September 2017, or at any other time. We are having interesting discussions in the run-up to the May elections in Scotland. We do not know what the Government will do and all the parties are making competing and conflicting claims. However, what the DWP cannot say with any certainty is that there will be a guarantee in Scotland for the increased childcare that may be available in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is a very important point, which will not have been missed by some of my SNP colleagues north of the border—so there is a political point that the Government need to be careful about.

I mentioned briefly earlier the pressure on Jobcentre Plus staff, with the departmental expenditure limit cut and the cuts on top of cuts. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, dealt with that reasonably well. I understand his point that back-office functions can be released. I saw some of that in Glasgow 10 days ago and was impressed. The decision-maker I was talking to explained that he is obliged to follow the rulebook and the information available to him at the time. Because he is an experienced hand and is trying to do the best he can, he often knows that the information available is incomplete. However, in the absence of the information they need about the quality and availability of childcare, staff are obliged to issue sanctions. I know there is a yellow-card system in place and will be interested to see how that goes.

The question that I want the Minister to reflect on concerns a case that would be caught under these new rules. A claimant went to a provider with whom she was comfortable, and the provider said, “Yes, you can have some of this free time, but it’s three hours before working hours start and three hours after working hours finish”, which is absolutely useless to anyone. So the ability of providers to fit the individual, hourly need for some of these claimants is very difficult. It is that kind of situation, where sanctions could be applied in a way that defies any kind of common-sense approach, which we are facing here. The only way I can see to guarantee that this will not have unintended consequences is to put it in the Bill. Amendment 53B in my name seeks to do that.

9 Dec 2015 : Column 1652

9.15 pm

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 53D and 54, which are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie, and in support of the other amendments in this group. As we have heard, DWP currently expects lone parents and the main carer in a couple to be available for and seek work when their youngest child turns five. The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, explained how quickly lone parents have found themselves moving up the scale in terms of conditionality. In 2009, under the previous Government, a single parent whose youngest child was aged 12 was moved over to JSA, but in 2012 they were required to be available for work when their youngest child was five. It is a very big step to move towards parents of pre-school children having to be available for work. It is not just that they will have to be available for work when their youngest child turns three. When the youngest turns two, they will be subject to work-focused interviews and work preparation requirements, and when their youngest is one, they will be subject to work-focused interview requirements. At one, a child is a baby.