HL Deb 16 October 1995 vol 566 cc577-9

3.25 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they do not monitor the effects of policies which disentitle people to means-tested benefits.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish)

My Lords, information from a variety of sources is used to monitor the effects of policy.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I cannot say that I found it informative. The Minister will know—for he has often told me so—that the Government do not monitor the behavioural effects of disentitling people to benefit. The Minister will also know—for he has often told me so—that it is important to cost measures accurately. How can we cost the effects of disentitling people to benefit if we do not know what the behavioural effects of such disentitlements may be?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as I have explained to the noble Earl on a number of occasions, research into the behavioural aspects of benefit changes or the way in which benefits impinge on people is extremely difficult to conduct for a number of reasons, including one's ability or inability to obtain a proper control group. However, the Department of Social Security has an outpouring of statistical information on which it can base some of its judgments at least in these matters. We collect numerous statistics on, for example, the participation rates in YT of 16 and 17 year-olds, the attainment of trainees, the number of people waiting for places and the length of time that they wait, the number who claim severe hardship payments and the rate of success in claiming severe hardship payments.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, does the Minister accept that those in the DSS are not the best people to evaluate the information which the noble Earl seeks? It is quite common knowledge outside this House among people who consider such matters, including people who are in the midst of crime or who are its victims, that disentitlement to benefit is high on the list of causes of crime, together with the effects of television and living on some of our housing estates. Those in the DSS are not the only people who should be evaluating such things. Indeed, in my view, the DSS is not the body which should do that. The Minister should be considering more scientific methods. Perhaps the police and the courts can help. Certainly, agencies other than the DSS should be involved.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, people become disentitled to benefit for a number of reasons. They may have found employment or they may have had employment while claiming benefit. They may have other income or their circumstances may change. Disentitlement to benefit takes a considerable number of forms. It includes people who do not, for example, take up the offers of YT places that are made to them. If such people become disentitled to benefit they have a way of re-entitling themselves to it; that is, by accepting the job prospects or YT prospects that are on offer.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, the Minister has indicated that he has a considerable amount of information on these matters from a number of sources and that the Government have made a number of judgments. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will publish their judgments, supported by the necessary facts to which, apparently, they have unlimited access?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, for most of the past Session I have been not only publishing but explaining the Government's judgments on a range of Department of Social Security policies. We also produce statistics. One important statistic relating to 16 and 17 year-olds is that 72 per cent. of 16 and 17 year-olds in England are in full-time education today compared to only 49 per cent. in 1979.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the large amount of legislation we have had, which has resulted in reducing entitlement to benefit (the Jobseekers Allowance Act is the most recent example), will undoubtedly mean that more people will come off contributory benefit and go on to means-tested benefit? In view that, should we not know what happens to such people if they later become disentitled to means-tested benefit? Surely we should know the result of legislation which we pass in this House.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, as I have already explained, such things would be extremely difficult to quantify and research. Perhaps I may say also that anyone who becomes disentitled to, for example, the jobseekers allowance has become disentitled because of a deliberate decision that that person has taken—either not to take the jobs on offer or not to take the YT course on offer. It is not the Government or the taxpayer doing the disentitling, it is the people involved disentitling themselves by not obeying the entitlement criteria.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the Minister recently drew my attention to the Government's reply to the Social Security Select Committee of another place which says that it is a Treasury instruction to other departments that they should consider the cost to the DSS of their measures. Is it an instruction to the DSS that it should consider the cost to other departments of its measures? If so, is it obeying it? If it is not, why not?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, when in the DSS and elsewhere in government we are considering proposals for change we attempt, as well as we possibly can, to quantify the costs and savings which may arise from those changes. Indeed, in the course of the four pieces of legislation I have brought before your Lordships' House this year on a number of occasions—a great number of occasions some of your Lordships may feel—I have expanded on those costs and savings.

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