If the Government are going to push mothers of very young children into work and work preparation, they need to be a lot more convincing about the availability and affordability of suitable childcare than they have been in this House in recent months, certainly when the House was discussing the Childcare Bill. There is no evidence that lone parents do not want to work. All the evidence shows that as their children get older, their employment rates rise significantly. I read again the impact assessment for this clause. To the question about why you would do this, the answer was that where there is conditionality, mothers are more likely to work; parents of young children are less likely to work; ergo, if you put conditionality in, they will be more likely to work. That presupposes it is always a good thing.

I want to explore that a little more, which is why I have put my name to the stand part on this clause. Amendment 53D would provide that work search and work availability requirements were limited to work that was in a location which is within a reasonable travelling distance of the claimant’s home. Amendment 54 would provide that parents or carers of children under-fives would not be sanctioned unless suitable and affordable childcare was available. At present, universal credit claimants can limit their job search activities to work that is a maximum of 90 minutes’ travel away. That is still three hours a day in total.

Advisers at jobcentres are under no legal obligation to consider caring responsibilities for young pre-school children when setting the geographic distance that a parent is expected to travel to work and in which to search for work and when considering whether sanctions should apply where a claimant has chosen to limit their work search to job vacancies nearer than that or has failed to apply for a job because of its distance. The matter is left to their discretion in individual cases. Over the years, I have repeatedly raised with Ministers concerns about the way that discretion is used by advisers with parents of children. All I ever get are bland assurances that each case is looked at

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individually, that there will be an individual claimant commitment and that every person’s circumstances are taken into account, but growing concerns are being expressed that advisers either do not understand or are disregarding the realities of life as the sole or main carer of young children.

At the moment, single parents are meant to be able to limit their working hours to the school day, but I have heard complaints that advisers have been telling parents to apply for jobs which start and finish at the same time as the school day. Parents have had gently to explain to the young person in the jobcentre that you cannot generally send a five year-old to walk to school on his own, even, perhaps especially, if he thinks he is more than capable of it. The logistics of life can be very complicated. Let us think about the logistics for a parent who has two children at different schools, or one at a pre-school or nursery and another at school. The parent has got to get them to and between the schools, go to work and come back and pick them up at the end of the day. These things seem obvious, but they tell us why we need statutory guidance for advisers, because I hear of so many cases where these things are ignored. I have been told of lone parents expected to look for jobs in London when they live in Brighton or vice versa.

The charity Gingerbread—and I declare an historic interest, as once upon a time I was the chief executive of the National Council for One Parent Families, which merged into what is now Gingerbread—says that it is excessively harsh to require parents of children who are too young to be in school to leave their children in childcare for up to three hours extra per day due to travel to and from work and it fails to take account of the welfare of children. Indeed it does. Young children get very tired, as well as the parents. School days are long. When you first go to school, it is a long day, and it is tiring. To be in childcare away from home for three hours outside of the school day is a lot. Kids need to relax sometimes. They do not need constantly to be in formal childcare settings.

There is also the question of the availability of childcare, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. The Government assure us that there is extra childcare for parents of under-fours. During the passage of the Childcare Bill, there were a lot of questions about whether there is enough funding available to provide for that. I gather that the Government have said that they have £365 million to fund 30 hours a week of childcare. We know, to our cost, that during the last election Labour committed to providing 25 hours of free childcare a week for the same age group in its manifesto, and the Conservative Party announced that that would cost £1.25 billion. If it would cost £1.25 billion to fund 25 hours a week, how can one possibly fund 30 hours a week on just £365 million? Therefore my question to the Minister is, is she confident that enough money is available to roll that out before these requirements are placed on any single parent?

Single parents also struggle to get advisers to agree what is reasonable. One single parent, who could not get the jobcentre to agree with her as to what was reasonable, said:

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“I’ve been looking for work pretty much since he left me … but I find it hard to fit things into her pre-school hours. I looked into one job and the nursery couldn’t offer me the extra hours. If I had got the job it would have meant my child going to three different providers. How can you put your child through that? My child has been through so much turmoil already … it is not fair on her”.

It is not fair. That is why we need the clarity that childcare must be suitable as well as available.

These amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord McKenzie are designed so that the detail can be provided in regulation, but it must be on a statutory basis. Will the Minister therefore agree that regulations will make clear that parents will not be sanctioned when no suitable childcare is available, and that parents have a statutory right to have their responsibilities for children properly taken into account by jobcentre advisers when considering the distance a parent of preschool-age children should be expected to travel in search of work? It is important that that is specified, either in the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, has indicated, or at the very least in regulations.

My final question to the Minister is: what is the Government’s thinking about balancing the importance of parents working with the needs of children? Mothers do jobs as well; raising children is work and is arguably even more important than whatever job the parent gets paid to do. If the conditionality works, why not require parents with babies to go out to work? That might sound ridiculous, but I went to visit welfare to work programmes in the United States a few years ago. I visited what I regard as very good programmes and other programmes, in one state, where the parents of children that had turned three months old were expected to put them, if necessary, into unregulated day care and go out to spend 40 hours a week either in work or simply in work-preparation activity. Therefore there are precedents elsewhere.

I consider that at some point we have a responsibility for the children. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham mentioned in a debate on an earlier amendment the importance of cognitive development in young children. We see differences opening up very early on between children in poor families and in other families. It is important in this that we get the balance right between the interests of children and the economic activities of the parents.

Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, Amendment 55 seeks to ensure that the work-related requirements or benefit conditions under universal credit will not apply to the carers of disabled children aged three and four unless appropriate childcare for these children can be secured. I recognise that several noble Lords have already referred to these conditions.

Many carers of disabled children aged three or four will not be subject to benefit conditionality anyway. Responsible carers who receive the carer element will fall into the “no conditionality” group in universal credit, which of course I applaud. This means that parents of children who receive the middle or highest rate of disability living allowance will be in the “no work-related requirements group” and will therefore not be subject to the conditionality this clause introduces.

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Government will therefore probably feel that there is not a problem, but in fact there are two reasons why there is a problem. One is that several thousand families with disabled children under five which receive DLA will not be exempt from the conditionality requirements due to difficulties in identification of need during the early years and administrative delays in processing claims which are wide-scale and well known. In addition, I understand that the majority of families of children under five do not have access to DLA at all. More than three times the number of children aged five to 11 receive DLA as children aged nought to five. A large number of disabled young children under five do not receive DLA but then their families go on to claim it when they are older.

The other concern is that, with the move from DLA to PIP, fewer children will be eligible for the benefit, and these numbers will grow. To date, the introduction of PIP has not achieved the Government’s required drop in the number of eligible children to achieve the required savings, therefore the eligibility criteria will, I understand, be tightened. All this will mean that more families with disabled children will be subject to benefit conditionality and the sanctions associated with it. Amendment 55 would go some way to ameliorate the consequences of the PIP change by broadening the exemption from the conditionality requirements to include children in receipt of a statement of special educational needs and its replacement, the new education, health and care plan, which is designed to run from birth for those who need it. Under the amendment, the exemption could also include those with “child in need” status, as defined by the Equality Act.

The availability of suitable childcare for disabled children is also a serious problem, as others have already mentioned. Of course, the Government’s increase in the number of hours of free childcare from 15 to 30 is incredibly welcome, but I hope that the Minister agrees that the legislation needs to make it absolutely clear that if suitable childcare is not available then the conditionality requirements simply must not be applied.

With regard to the parliamentary inquiry into childcare for disabled children, two-fifths of respondents with three and four year-olds said that they were not able to access even the 15-hour entitlement. I repeat: two-fifths of respondents. What will be the proportion of those unable to access 30 hours of childcare? I understand that the shortage in childcare provision is backed up by the Government’s own findings. Perhaps the Minister would like to confirm that.

My concern is that the situation could well deteriorate due to the financial squeeze on local authorities. To make childcare work for parents of disabled children, there must be sufficient financial support for local authorities to develop an adequate workforce and general support for these facilities. I realise that the issue of appropriate childcare for this group was raised during debate in your Lordships’ House on the Childcare Bill, and I would appreciate an update from the Minister on developments since then. Does the Minister agree that it cannot be acceptable to sanction carers of disabled children, generally parents, who choose to care for their disabled child at home—for the most

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disabled children, this may be the only feasible option—rather than work, or indeed who feel obliged to do so due to the lack of adequate childcare?

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Pitkeathley, Lady Hollins and Lady Manzoor, for adding their names to this amendment and I am grateful for the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor. I appreciate that the Minister is under great pressure to achieve all the cuts envisaged in the Bill, but I hope that he can recognise the absolute reasonableness of this amendment.

Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB): My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 56, which is in my name. Its purpose is to require Jobcentre Plus staff who are drawing up the claimant commitment to specifically address whether the claimant has a long-term health condition or impairment and, if so, what reasonable adjustments are required.

I believe that this amendment is necessary. It may be assumed that, if someone is claiming JSA or its equivalent in universal credit, they do not have a long-term health condition or impairment that affects their day-to-day functioning and limits their jobseeking. However, the descriptors for the work capability assessment to decide whether someone is fit for work mean that many people whose day-to-day functioning is quite significantly affected are found fit for work and have no other option but to claim JSA or the equivalent in universal credit. They may have considerable limitations on the ways in which they can job search. For example, someone in their late 50s who has emphysema and can walk only 100 metres is likely to be found fit for work but, if they live a mile away from the nearest computer that they can use or a mile away from the nearest bus stop, they are likely to have considerable difficulties in logging on to jobmatch or in going to the jobcentre.

When that is not taken into account in their claimant commitment, sick and disabled people find themselves being sanctioned because they have not been able to comply with the conditionality. One client of Citizens Advice had a knee injury and was awaiting surgery to reconstruct the knee. He was attending frequent appointments with a physiotherapist at the hospital. He also had a mental health condition and had been having suicidal thoughts, so he also had regular appointments with a psychologist. His WCA found him fit for work, and he claimed JSA while appealing this decision. His job coach told him that he had to sign on weekly. His ex-wife had to take him each week, otherwise he would not have been able to get there. His job coach then decided that he would have to come in every day. He explained again about his knee problem but was warned that if he did not come in he would be sanctioned.

At that point his ex-wife, who had brought him, could see that he was really struggling with his anger and agreed with him that he should leave, despite realising that this would mean he would be sanctioned. Part of his mental health condition was that he was having anger management issues. He was not sanctioned because, before this could happen, the adviser managed to get the decision-maker to accelerate the reconsideration. The fit-for-work decision was overturned and he was placed in the support group.

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9.30 pm

I recently launched a research report called Waiting for Credit, published by a group of Citizens Advice local offices, which looks at the delivery of universal credit. I hope the Minister has had the opportunity to read it. Four in 10 respondents to the survey who identified themselves as disabled or having a long-term health condition said that that condition or impairment had been taken into account when their claimant commitment was drawn up. Some made really positive comments about the support they had received, but about five in 10 said that their health condition or impairment had not been taken into account. The following comment by one of the respondents reflects the feeling of many in this group who left comments:

“They have kept threatening me that I need to do more and don’t want to know about my medical condition and why I can’t do what they want”.

Many Jobcentre Plus advisers do not seem to accept that someone who is not claiming ESA or its universal credit equivalent can have a long-term health condition or impairment that needs to be taken into account. Their reaction is to ignore any mention of a health condition, and if a claimant insists that they need some adjustments to their claimant commitment, they tell the person to claim ESA.

This had serious consequences for a CAB client who had been working 20 years as a machine driver before suffering a heart attack. After 14 weeks off sick, he was keen to resume work. He still had angina and was not fit enough to return to his former job, so he claimed JSA. His GP was happy for him to resume light work, as long as the hours were limited. However, his job coach kept pushing him to apply for unsuitable jobs and said he was not trying hard enough. When the client refused to apply for a job 23 miles away that involved heavy lifting and working 46 hours a week, he was told he would need to claim ESA. He claimed ESA and was refused. It was awarded on appeal, but during the stress of all this he had become increasingly depressed. When he then received a DWP letter saying it was challenging the tribunal decision, he went missing for three days and was found in the woods by the police. He is now being treated for depression and has had a further heart attack.

Once the digital service is rolled out and income-based ESA is no longer available in a given area, a claimant will have to claim universal credit instead and will be in the full work-related requirements group until they have a WCA. This protection will be even more necessary then.

An amendment similar to this one was tabled during the debate on the Welfare Reform Bill in 2011, when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said the following:

“Of course, for those claimants required to look for work, where it is appropriate to place limitations on work, search and availability requirements, this will be properly reflected in the claimant commitment”.—[Official Report, 24/10/11; col. GC 225.]

It is of course accepted that it is government policy that reasonable adjustments should be made, but what happens in a local office is often rather different from the policy intent. It is now clear that more protection is needed.

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Good training of Jobcentre Plus officials in this area is clearly vital. However, by addressing this issue, a statutory part of drawing up the claimant commitment is impossible to ignore, and there is a much stronger possibility of any reasonable adjustments being properly considered.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I encourage the Minister to at least agree to go away and think very seriously about these amendments. The paramountcy of the welfare of the child, I am sure, we are all entirely agreed about. We know that the first two years of life are absolutely crucial to long-term life chances. The next two years matter as much again. So how we behave towards children in the first four or five years of life, before they go to school, is the most significant factor in their long-term life chances.

A crucial part of this is the child bonding with the parent or parents, and family stability. We will all have spoken to parents who are doing an extremely good job, and who feel deeply pained and anguished as they decide to return to work part time, because they believe that will be best for their child and for themselves. Yet it is not an easy decision to make, because many of them would prefer to be at home with their child full time.

So, closeness of work matters deeply. It would be entirely unreasonable to ask a parent of a three or four year-old to travel too far, as has already been noted. The clause is designed to help to think through the paramountcy of the welfare of the child and, equally, the availability of good, suitable, affordable childcare. We accept that provisions are coming, although there are concerns about how they will be paid for. If a parent feels that the childcare is good, they feel better; they have a sense of well-being, which they pass on to their child, and the child itself feels better in that provided childcare. However, if a parent is uncertain about the level and standard of childcare, they are very anxious. They pass that anxiety on to their child, which damages the child’s welfare.

In the drive to encourage people to return to work, which most support fully, great care must be taken that, in that drive, the balance is not tipped towards a lack of parent/child contact that will actually lead to diminishing the child’s life chances, and thus have the exact opposite impact to the intention of this Bill. My deep concern is that without serious safeguards in the Bill there is a danger that we will place children at risk when we intend to place them in safety. We must ensure that the proper and right relationship between the parent and the child is not overstretched by the provisions in the Bill.

I hope that the Minister will be prepared at least to agree to go away and consider the amendments in the light of the possibility that they might be better for the welfare of the child than if they were not in the Bill. Will the Minister be prepared at least to take time to consider whether these might be in the best interests of the child?

Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab): I shall speak to Amendment 55, which was so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. Earlier today, many hours ago, my noble friend Lady Lister reminded the House

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that caring for people is part of how society works. Nowhere is that more true than those parents who are looking after a disabled child. So the proposed changes on conditionality for responsible carers, which would see carers with a child aged three or four being allocated to the work-related requirements group—requiring them to look for, and be available for, work—are of great concern.

Many parents and carers of disabled children aged three to four will be unable to fulfil these requirements because, as we have heard, there is a great lack of childcare for disabled children. Research shows that only 21% of local authorities say that there is sufficient childcare for disabled children in their area, a situation that is bound to get worse with the cuts to local authority funding. A recent Contact a Family survey showed that only 60% of parents with disabled children were able to fully access the current entitlement of 15 hours’ free childcare every week.

As we have heard, while carers of children in receipt of the higher-rate or middle-rate care component of DLA are exempted from these requirements, many children under five do not receive the benefit anyway because of the time taken to identify that child as disabled. Speak to any parent of a disabled child and they will tell you a long saga of how long it took to get a diagnosis, with administrative delays on top of that, so it often takes years to get that identification. Surely the carers of disabled children under five should be exempt from the additional conditionality unless appropriate childcare is available.

When this was debated in Committee in the Commons, the Minister agreed that appropriate childcare was critical—I emphasise again, childcare appropriate for children with disabilities—and I hope that the Minister today will be able to give an undertaking that the condition will not apply unless appropriate childcare is available.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, I would like to come back to some of the points that we raised in earlier discussions and support the amendments of my noble friends.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, was absolutely right when she made the point that we do no kindness to lone parents if they are bumping along at the very bottom; they want a job, a career and, in time, progression. That comes only if they have resilience in their individual jobs, if they stay in work and if they are able to make a commitment to their employer, which the employer recognises. However, with tax credits, we found that half of all lone parents had more than 12 changes of circumstances a year. As we did not have the real-time information that will underpin universal credit, the tax credit system never caught up and the computer would topple over.

Virtually all those changes of circumstances—more than 12 a year for more than 50% of lone parents—were based on childcare. For example, every half term and every holiday they had to have different childcare arrangements, but childminders want a particular pattern of work. The result was that we found that a lot of our efforts to get lone parents through the new deal into the labour market broke down over the issue of childcare.

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It could be affordable and it may even be available, but it may not be responsive to the needs of the parents and the child. All children are different. You cannot assume that because one child thrives at the age of two or three in a playgroup, another child will—they may not. Speaking from my experience with my own children, I know that it is not like that.

We found that what created resilience for lone parents to hang on in there in the labour market when their children were of pre-school age—this was the basis of the New Deal—was if they trusted their childcare and did not feel guilty about it. As one lone parent said to me, “I feel bad about leaving my child with strangers”. With a stranger, you cannot be sure that if the child starts running a temperature they will be taken to the GP, or whether they will be cuddled if they are fretting. Anyone who has been a mother will know that those sorts of things are part of the fabric of bringing up small children. The result was that the one childminder of choice who freed the lone parent from the guilt of working, and allowed them to respond to the problems of half terms, summer holidays and so on, was her own mother—the grandparent.

Certainly that was the case in my life, when it came to appropriate financial support arrangements and all the rest of it. That was the way that many of us in that generation were able to work while we had young children. Increasingly, however, we are pressing those same women—the grandparents—to stay in the labour market, because their pension age is being deferred later and later. We are therefore taking them out of the support network that alone permitted a generation of lone parents to go back into the labour market. I do not think that the Government have put together all the pieces that they need to in this jigsaw.

The Minister probably will not have the stats to hand, but perhaps she could write to us and tell us what the resilience of lone parents with small children is in holding on to work, particularly when they have been pressed into the labour market under the regime for children over the age of three and, increasingly, the age of two? There is no point in having a churning door: they are in work for six weeks until half term and then drop out; they then have to go through the whole jobcentre process, find another job for six weeks and then drop out again. What is their resilience and staying power? What is it that permits them to go to work and have confidence that their child is being well looked after in a way that they themselves would look after them? It usually means their own mother looking after the child, which makes them feel that they can progress in their job because they can stay in it.

I very much agree with almost every word that the right reverend Prelate said. I suspect that if you go into this too casually, focusing on trying to get the lone parent into the labour market without understanding the dynamics of childcare, guilt and resilience, all you are going to do is add to parental misery and not lift parents and children out of bumping along the bottom of the economic plateau.

9.45 pm

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, I will briefly support what my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate said, because there is research that

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bears out what my noble friend has just said. It was carried out at the University of Bath by Professor Jane Millar and Tess Ridge. They talked to both the children and the parents— lone mothers who had gone back to work. We are talking about slightly older children, of course. They said that for many families, the lone parent moving back into paid work did make life better. They got more money, the children felt better and so forth. But the findings also showed that,

“lone mothers’ aspirations for financial security were not always congruent with the reality of employment in low-paid, sometimes insecure work … For some children the challenges and costs of their mothers being in work were thrown into sharp relief by the accompanying low pay, uncertainty and insecurity of work. For these children work had held out the promise of something better and that promise had not been kept, so they experienced disappointment, and for some, an apparent loss of confidence in the value of work”.

I am sure that that is not what the Government are trying to achieve.

The report went on to say:

“Mothers’ experiences of establishing themselves as working families were marked in many cases by continuing low income and financial insecurity … Enhanced in-work support; increased reward from work coupled with adequate support when employment fails; flexible employment conditions and improved childcare options based on children’s own identified needs and preferences, are important prerequisites for successful lone mother employment and work-life balance. Otherwise increasing compulsion to work may result in greater uncertainty, stress and instability for children and their families”.

Baroness Drake (Lab): My Lords, I will be very brief. I am concerned, having heard noble Lords articulating their concerns, that a particular omission is not missed. My noble friend Lady Sherlock and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and all other noble Lords have articulated very clearly the concerns about balancing the needs of the child and the need for employment, and the importance of appropriate childcare. I just want to return once again to kinship carers.

Although the Welfare Reform Act 2012 exempts kinship carers from work conditionality requirements for a year after they take on the care of a child, ongoing, the young children that these kinship carers take on may still have very severe needs and insecure attachments such that suitable and appropriate childcare is really quite difficult to find. I just want to make sure that, in the Minister’s considerations, the need for kinship carers not to be sanctioned in those circumstances is not omitted.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park (Con): My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. The House understands the importance of the conditionality framework, underpinned by reasonable requirements, in encouraging parents to return to work. Achieving full employment is a key ambition of this Government, one I believe that we all support. Great progress was made in the last Parliament to increase parental employment, particularly with lone parents. However, more can be done. A fifth of all workless households are lone-parent households and a quarter of workless households contain dependent children.

We know that children with working parents are less likely to be in poverty and benefit from increased life chances. Work is the best route out of poverty and

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will ensure that children grow up in a stable environment where they are more likely to succeed. The Government believe that more can be done to support all parents with young children as they prepare for and look for work. This is why we are introducing this clause and increasing both Work Coach and childcare support. From April 2017, parents, including lone parents, claiming universal credit, as discussed, will be expected to look for work when their youngest child turns three, and to prepare for work when their youngest child turns two. I remind noble Lords that Clause 15 changes conditionality for all responsible carers of children aged three to four in universal credit. As the noble Baroness said, this applies to both lone parents and the lead carer in a couple.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendments, perhaps I may briefly set out some of the context within which this clause is being introduced. In terms of the wider welfare reforms, as we have heard, the Government are investing in an enhanced childcare offer that will see spending reach more than £6 billion by 2019-20, including the investment of more than £1 billion more a year by 2019-20 in free childcare places for two, three and four year-olds.

A number of noble Lords have expressed concerns about the capacity of the sector. We have already seen its capacity to grow in its ability to offer the additional places for two year-olds and fulfil the previous free childcare offer, so we are confident that it will be able to rise to the challenge and produce the quality childcare places that are needed. We have a number of consultations ongoing, including a review of early years funding, which is obviously a key issue for the sector. As I say, the consultations are ongoing so we do not have the results yet, but I can certainly look into giving noble Lords an update on where the deliberations have got to, because the Bill is currently in the other place.

Again, the additional 15 hours of free childcare is just one element of a more comprehensive menu of support, including the universal childcare element, which will cover up to 85% of eligible childcare costs from April 2016. This will be available for parents working any number of hours, unlike under tax credits where it is restricted to those working more than 16 hours. Under tax-free childcare, up to 2 million families could benefit. The Government are also committed to introducing the national living wage, with the rate forecast to rise to more than £9 an hour by 2020, which will mean a direct wage boost for 2.7 million low-paid workers. Of course, there is also the transformation that universal credit brings. It transforms the structural benefits system, ensuring that work pays by incentivising and smoothing the transition into work. It will support people in and out of work so that they can take up work, for no matter how few hours, safe in the knowledge that they will retain their financial safety net.

Universal credit also overhauls the conditionality framework. It removes the prescriptive requirements which mean that people claiming a certain benefit must take certain actions or lose their entitlement to financial support. Instead, people are allocated to a conditionality group according to their personal and household circumstances and earnings, and their capability. Where individuals have many different characteristics

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and circumstances, they will always be allocated to the lowest intensity conditionality. For example, the parent of a disabled child who requires full-time care will be in the “no work-related requirements” group. Similarly, the parent of a three year-old who has been found to have limited capacity for work will be subject only to work preparation requirements. Furthermore, irrespective of the conditionality group, individuals will have requirements and the employment support they receive tailored to their own circumstances and capabilities. Work coaches can, for instance, switch off requirements entirely for a temporary period where a parent or their children are experiencing difficult circumstances. Now when parents are asked to look for or prepare for work, their requirements will be fully tailored to their circumstances, in contrast to the current rigid system.

Currently, parents claiming jobseeker’s allowance are required to be available for work and undertaking work-related activity for a minimum of 16 hours a week, or they risk losing their entitlement to benefit. In universal credit, there is no minimum requirement and work coaches have complete flexibility to set what is reasonable for each individual. For the first time, we will be supporting parents who are in low-paid work to earn more through in-work progression, where previously they may have been trapped in a cycle of low-paid jobs without any support. We know that developing a skilled workforce is key to realising the flexibilities that we have built into the legislative framework. We want to empower our work coaches to use this broad discretion to make sound decisions that are right for the individual in front of them. That is why we are investing heavily in learning and development for our front-line staff.

To achieve our ambition of providing the best and most efficient customer service, we are introducing a work coach delivery model to ensure that our people and organisation are structured to meet those needs now and in the future. This improves the quality of our work services support by placing the work coach role at the centre of future delivery, providing quality interventions. This approach also better deals with claimants as individuals or family units rather than by benefit. The model offers continuity to the claimant, allowing them to build a relationship with their work coach where they feel able to share their personal circumstances, resulting in appropriately tailored requirements which are achievable. It supports a personalised journey into work or helps to prepare them for work in the future.

To further support the introduction of universal credit and build the capability and professionalism of our work force, we are also implementing a work coach accreditation learning journey, which is in an initial proof-of-concept stage. It has 300 participants made up of work coaches and their line managers. The accreditation of staff will build up consistency across the workforce by having a clear standard of achievement within a framework that enables structured learning, timely intervention and public recognition of standards attained.

Accreditation also supports quality control, with work coaches receiving regular feedback at the time of the accreditation review from objective, informed, and

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skilled line managers and external accreditors. In addition to the accreditation strategy, all work coaches will receive full training as part of the rollout of universal credit, and new guidance and learning products will be developed specifically for the implementation of this policy. I hope noble Lords can see that a lot of work has been done to ensure that the advice claimants get is of the highest quality, and tailored to their needs.

I know many noble Lords are concerned about the potential impacts of sanctions on parents as a direct result of this policy. I hope I have conveyed that our intention is not to penalise parents but to support them to find employment. Increasing conditionality and the employment support offered should not increase sanctions. Parents will be set reasonable and achievable requirements, which their work coaches will support them to meet. We have clear and transparent safeguards in place to protect people against sanctions where their requirements are unreasonable or they have a good reason not to meet them. However, that is not to say that sanctions should not play a role. Strong international evidence shows that benefits regimes tied to conditionality get people into work, and sanctions underpin this.

In response to an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, about sanctions starting at 13 weeks, that is not the case. Low-level sanctions are open-ended and are not set at 13 weeks. This means that a claimant can re-engage and end the sanction more quickly. Our principle is simple. Parents should be encouraged to undertake reasonable requirements around their childcare responsibilities, taking into account the childcare options available, however limited these may be. This will ensure that they do not lose touch with the labour market.

In relation to the specific amendments, Amendment 53A, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, specifies that,

“in preparing a claimant commitment … the Secretary of State shall have regard (as far as practicable)”,

to the impact of the content in the claimant commitment on the well-being of any child who may be affected by it.

As I have already described, through conversations with the individual work coaches, already set and agreed work-related activities are tailored for a broad range of circumstances, including for matters relating to the well-being of children. This is achievable through existing legislation and it would be unduly burdensome to set out this level of detail in primary legislation.

In relation to the findings of the Citizens Advice report that the noble Baronesses, Lady Manzoor and Lady Grey-Thompson, mentioned, we accept that it is early days in the delivery of universal credit, and it is a big cultural change for our staff. There have been mistakes and variation in performance. The important thing is that we continually test, learn and spot problems promptly. As I have set out, a lot of work is going on to ensure that the accreditation and quality in training for work coaches is of a high quality.

It would also not be fair only to prescribe that claimant commitments must contain information relating to the well-being of children. We do not take our responsibilities for the well-being of children lightly.

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That is why the regulations also make clear the circumstances in which requirements should be limited, or even lifted entirely, for a temporary period. For example, Regulations 98 and 99 provide provisions for suspension of requirements where children may be in distress. These reasonable requirements, including any limiting or lifting and the reasons, are recorded within the claimant commitment.

Amendment 53B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, seeks to exempt responsible carers of a child aged three and four from having requirements imposed where suitable and affordable childcare cannot be secured. We believe that is unnecessary in light of the flexibilities that I have talked about which universal credit provides. However, I can certainly assure the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that the department is looking at childcare fitting in with individual requirements. It has been key to the passage of the Childcare Bill and the work that is going on. Parents will be able to use the new offer outside term time. The whole aim is to ensure that this offer is flexible so that parents can access childcare when they need it. As I said, the free childcare offer is not the only support available. Where childcare cannot be found, parents will not be required to do anything that they cannot fit around caring responsibilities.

10 pm

Amendment 53C, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, would specify in regulations that the number of hours for work-related requirements expected of a responsible carer of a child aged under five must be compatible with the child’s entitlement to free early years provision. It also specifies that these expected hours must take account of the time needed to deliver the child to and pick them up from that childcare provision. As I have already described, work coaches will be able to tailor the expected number of hours. We do not believe that it would be right to define the expected hours in terms of the free childcare offer because it does not also take into account the full childcare offer available. We think that this definition could potentially exclude a broad spectrum of childcare available to parents. As the noble Baroness said, many use informal childcare, such as relatives.

Amendment 53D, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, proposes to duplicate safeguards that are already covered in Regulation 97. Work coaches already have full discretion to tailor the individual requirements placed on all claimants, not just responsible carers of young children. This includes travelling time to and from work with the focus again, as I said, on the quality of the advice being given and the training for work coaches. The noble Baroness raised concerns about this not happening in practice. That is why we are focusing so much on ensuring that training is available and that all claimants get the quality advice that they deserve.

Amendment 54, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Manzoor, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, focuses on single parents and seeks to make a blanket exemption from higher-level sanctions for single parents who cannot find suitable or affordable childcare, taking no account of the personal

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circumstances of the individual parents. Through universal credit we have made a conscious decision to address the long-standing disparity between lone and partner benefit claimants. We do not want to single out lone parents. Rather, we want support to be tailored on an individual basis, not targeted at groups of people who may share one characteristic but, when you delve deeper, have very different support needs.

I of course recognise that suitability and affordability of local childcare may be an issue for some parents, but it would be extremely difficult to define what is meant by “suitable” or “affordable” and to cover the broad spectrum of childcare available to parents. That is why, as I said, work coaches have full discretion to tailor the individual requirements placed on parents. This is achievable through existing legislation and there is no need to exempt single parents from higher-level sanctions.

To clarify the circumstances where a higher-level sanction might apply, the individual would have to, for no good reason: fail to apply for a particular vacancy; fail to take up an offer of paid work; cease paid work voluntarily or through misconduct; or lose pay voluntarily or through misconduct. These are serious matters that should not be taken lightly. However, it is unlikely that many parents will find themselves in a situation where they might incur such a sanction.

Through discussions with the individual, work coaches will help to identify all barriers to work, understand the individual’s caring responsibilities for their child and the type of work-related requirements they are able to meet as a result. This will ensure that single parents should not be set unreasonable requirements. Setting reasonable and tailored requirements in this way means that parents should be able to meet them and therefore not face sanctions. As I said, the aim of this is not to increase the number of sanctions occurring. In the event that childcare is not identified as a problem or that arrangements fall through after requirements have been agreed, parents are able to alert their work coach before a referral to a sanction.

There are a number of safeguards in place, first and foremost to ensure that requirements set are reasonable. If a claimant does not consider that the work-related requirements in their claimant commitment are reasonable and reflect their circumstances, they can request a second opinion from a different work coach.

Where a sanction referral has been made, there are a number of steps to make sure that the decisions are correct. Independent decision-makers consider each case, including any evidence of good reason put forward by a claimant. All claimants can ask for the decision to be reconsidered and can appeal against the decision to an independent tribunal. A sanction will never be imposed if a claimant has good reason for failing to meet requirements.

Lack of appropriate and affordable childcare would count as a good reason for not having met any of these requirements. The types of things which count as good reason are made clear in the advice for decision-makers guidance, which is publicly available. As a result, we believe that this amendment is unnecessary.

Moving on to carers, Amendment 55, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher, Lady Pitkeathley, Lady Hollins, and Lady Manzoor, seeks to exempt

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responsible carers of a disabled child from full conditionality. I know that everyone in this House agrees that carers provide invaluable support for relatives, partners and friends who may be ill or disabled. So do we, and that is why the conditionality framework in universal credit has been designed to ensure adequate protection. Universal credit already provides substantial safeguards and flexible support for all carers. Existing legislation is clear that those with caring responsibilities for a disabled person should not be subject to any conditionality. Therefore, I do not believe that the exemption or the new determination of disability is necessary. Most responsible carers of a disabled child aged three to four will not be subject to the conditionality that this clause introduces.

Those parents who receive the middle or highest rate of disability living allowance will be entitled to the carer element in universal credit and will fall into the “no conditionality” group, so would not be subject to any work-related requirements. The carer element supports carers on a low income who provide weekly care of 35 hours or more for a severely disabled person. This does not replace carer’s allowance, which will continue to exist as a separate benefit outside of universal credit. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, more than half of the children in receipt of disability living allowance aged under five receive the highest-rate care component and nearly the same proportion receive the middle rate. In total, around 51,000 out of 54,000 receive DLA at the highest or middle rate, and therefore I confirm that they will not be subject to the changes this clause introduces.

Concerns have been raised that it is difficult for parents of children under the age of five to demonstrate their child’s disability as part of the claims process to DLA. Current legislation does not specify that a parent applying for DLA on behalf of their child must provide supporting evidence of their child’s disability or health condition in addition to the application form.

In addition, the introduction of the mandatory reconsideration process means that decisions which are incorrect can be amended much more quickly. The number of appeals against DLA decisions has significantly dropped since the introduction of mandatory reconsideration, indicating that parents are able to access the support they need. And, for the purposes of conditionality, if a parent is the carer of a child awaiting assessment, they will be placed in the “no work-related requirements” group and will not be subject to any requirements. For those not entitled to the carer element, different levels of conditionality may apply. I will not go into those as I think that I have talked for too long, but I am happy to provide further information. Noble Lords did say that they wanted more information.

I move to Amendment 56.

Baroness Meacher: I want to put on record the fact that this all sounds just grand and everybody is going to be absolutely fine. However, did the Minister notice that there is a great disparity between the number of parents of children under five who actually qualify for DLA and the number of those with children over five who do so, and that those who have not got to the

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point of being recognised as having a disabled child are, of course, subject to the conditionality and will come into all the horrendous situations that we all know so well? I would like the Minister to acknowledge that for those who receive higher and middle level DLA things are perhaps reasonably satisfactory, but they are a proportion—I think less than half—of the total number of families with disabled children under five. That is rather an important point.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I thank the noble Baroness for that comment. I will reflect on what she said and if there is any further information I can provide, I will do so.

Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Meacher, proposes to unnecessarily prescribe the contents of the claimant commitment in the Welfare Reform Act. Work coaches are bound by public law duties to take into account all relevant matters when deciding on the specific requirements a claimant must meet. This will include any relevant points or objections raised by the claimant. They are also bound by the Equality Act 2010 to make adjustments to ensure that those with a disability are not placed at a disadvantage. The claimant commitment will record the requirements that have been identified through discussion to be reasonable in individuals’ circumstances. We support the principle that the requirements contained in the claimant commitment should reflect reasonable adjustments. Indeed, this is what work coaches are asked to do now. But reasonable adjustments are made and requirements are tailored for a broad range of circumstances, not just for matters relating to a disability.

Amendment 56A, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, seeks to delay implementation until the free childcare offer is available to all those to whom this clause applies. As I have already said, the 30 hours’ free childcare is just one element of an extensive menu of government support. This clause applies to parents in England, Wales and Scotland, who have their own free childcare offer, and therefore we should not tie the implementation of the England-only offer to this clause.

Amendment 62A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, seeks to put into statute a review of the impact of the changes to conditionality for parents. We believe that this amendment is unnecessary as we keep the operation of the conditionality and sanctions framework under constant review. I will not go further than that because we will be coming to a further amendment on sanctions next week so I will be able to give more information then.

Baroness Manzoor: This is really important. Hearing the Minister speak, it sounds terribly complex. I thought that with universal credit we were moving towards things being much simpler. But anyone outside listening today, such as mothers with children who are two or three years old, will be thinking, “My gosh, what on earth am I going to have to go through just to prove that I cannot get a job because of my responsibilities to my children?”. But the review mechanism is very important. It comes back to this evidence-based decision-making. I hear what the Minister says about coming

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back to this but we are talking about it now in relation to this amendment so I would like a response just so that I understand it.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: It is not that it is becoming more complex; it is becoming more individualised, which also means that it will be more responsive to individuals’ circumstances. It is not that complexity is increasing. It is actually that individuality and responsiveness to individuals’ circumstances are increasing.

All these amendments move us away from the key universal credit principle that we treat people as individuals and tailor their requirements based on their personal circumstances. They also take no account of the existing safeguards within the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Universal Credit Regulations 2013. We firmly believe that we need to be doing more rather than less to encourage and support all parents with young children to prepare for and look for work, ultimately improving their children’s life chances.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: I hope your Lordships will forgive me if my intervention is incorrect—I am still learning the ways of this House. I asked what I thought was a very simple question: is there a willingness to go away and consider? I thank the Minister for all the information, which is extremely helpful, and I believe that individual tailoring is an absolutely proper and right way forward. What I am mystified by is the apparent unwillingness today to be prepared to go away and at least consider some of the concerns of many of us who are not driven by political stuff at all—we are just deeply, passionately concerned for the children of this nation—that you might have got some of it slightly wrong and it could be improved.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: The Government certainly listen with extreme care to all the views expressed by noble Lords. A lot of the detail will be in regulations, so there will be opportunity, but I assure the right reverend Prelate that the views of this Committee are taken into account and considered.

10.15 pm

Baroness Lister of Burtersett: Is the noble Baroness saying that she will put some of the points that have been raised into regulations? I think noble Lords would see that as a step forward, but is that what she is saying?

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: No, I am afraid I am not making that commitment. I am saying that there are further opportunities for discussion. I apologise for taking so long to explain and respond to these amendments.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Baroness mentioned earlier in her speech something that made me shudder: the very serious situation in which a lone

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parent voluntarily leaves her work and therefore has sanctions applied to her. That might make sense for a young single man with no other responsibilities who has not been engaged in work and so on, but not for a lone parent. When a lone parent says that she left her job because her child was X, Y and Z, how does the Minister expect a 22 year-old man in a jobcentre to know whether that did or did not require, and was appropriate for, a sanction? It seems to me that these are different planets. I am baffled that the noble Baroness thinks that such highly sensitive issues, with every child being different in their needs, can be judged by a box-ticking mentality in Jobcentre Plus.

Baroness Evans of Bowes Park: I am sorry, but I will have to get back to the noble Baroness. I urge noble Lords—and noble Baronesses—to withdraw or not press their amendments.

Baroness Manzoor: I thank the Minister for her comprehensive response. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. One thing I have heard very loud and clear is that not one of us can accept in totality what the noble Baroness is saying. I did not get that impression. We are certainly looking for some understanding and for the Minister to go back and think about some of the issues that have been raised because they are vital for mothers. They are particularly so for women, as I said, because it is mostly women who are carers. Having sat through the debates on day one of the Committee and today, I increasingly think the Bill will have a disproportionate effect on women. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, who said that we really did not have an impact on gender inequalities and the gender impact of the Bill. For me, that is increasingly a worry.

Knowing of so many young women who have young children, and having heard from so many who are single, there are people who are genuinely and seriously worried about what will happen without that support mechanism—and the sanctions are really aiding that fear. The Minister spoke passionately about it being unlikely that these sanctions would apply, but I genuinely cannot understand why they are then even there. I keep going back to the issue of hope and inspiring people who really want support. In fact, the Government seem to be using every opportunity not to support and care in the way that they say they will, because the actions are not delivering that. Despite all that, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 53A withdrawn.

Amendments 53B to 56A not moved.

Clause 15 agreed.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 10.20 pm.