§ 3.9 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19th December be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am also speaking to the four other regulations on the Order Paper. The jobseeker's allowance is a major step forward in creating a labour market in Britain which generates jobs and in helping unemployed people to get those jobs. It is the next stage in the Government's strategy whose success is now clear for all to see.
§ Unemployment has now fallen for 28 successive months. The Government's economic policy has created an exceptionally favourable climate for the start of new businesses and inward investment into the UK. The fall in unemployment is set against a background where this country now has lower unemployment and more people in work than any other major European Union country. Employment has grown substantially over recent years. New vacancies continue to be notified to Jobcentres at record levels and the number of people getting jobs through the help of Employment Service staff is also at record levels. We are determined to reinforce that success.
§ The benefit system has a vital role to play in helping unemployed people into jobs. It should help and motivate every jobseeker. The current system of unemployment benefit and income support does not always do so. It contains disincentives to work. It is complex, out of date and confusing for claimants. It fails to target help on those who need it most. Above all, it was designed to support people while they are out of work. Unemployed people want help to get back to work. That is what the jobseeker's allowance will provide. That is what the regulations are about.
§ In our White Paper in October 1994 the Government set out the three main aims for the new, modern benefit. First, we aim to improve the operation of the labour market by helping people in their search for work, while ensuring that they understand and fulfil the conditions for the receipt of benefit. JSA emphasises the responsibilities of unemployed people to take every advantage of the opportunities open to them to get back to work.
§ Secondly, we aim to secure better value for money for the taxpayer by a streamlined administration, closer targeting on those who need financial support and a regime which more effectively helps them find jobs.1234
§ Thirdly, we aim to improve the service we give to unemployed people through a clearer, coherent benefit structure and a better integration of the payment of benefits with the delivery of help and advice to find work. We want to give jobseekers the most effective and up-to-date support that we can devise. Through the new labour market computer system, employment advisers will have unprecedented access to information on vacancies and other opportunities which they will be able to match against the needs of the individual jobseeker.
§ In achieving those aims with the implementation of JSA in October this year, we will make jobs—the pursuit of jobs and the winning of jobs—the focus of our efforts on behalf of unemployed people.
§ We debated at length, in this House and in another place, our proposals during the passage of the Jobseekers Bill last year. The regulations provide a further level of detail, setting out the rules which will apply when jobseeker's allowance is introduced in October. In view of those earlier debates, and of the extensive nature of the regulations, I thought it best to cover matters in a general introductory speech. I shall, of course, listen most carefully to comments made during the debate and will, as far as I possibly can, endeavour to answer the points raised in my response.
§ Part II of the regulations deals with the labour market tests which are at the heart of the allowance and upon which we spent many hours in debate. They are designed to ensure that all jobseekers are open to the full range of job opportunities and are making all reasonable efforts to find work. There will be no change in JSA to the basic availability condition that people must be willing and able to take up immediately any offer of employment. That has been a requirement for unemployment benefits for a long time. To allow jobseekers to adapt to the flexible nature of the modern labour market, Regulation 7 will permit them to agree an individual pattern of availability across the week. That easement is balanced by a new requirement that jobseekers should normally be available for employment of at least 40 hours a week.
§ Regulation 13 makes particular provision for people who wish to restrict their availability on religious or conscientious grounds, for those with caring responsibilities for children or sick or elderly relatives, and for people with disabilities. In line with the commitments that we made during the passage of the Bill, disabled people may restrict their availability in any way, provided that the restrictions are reasonable in the light of their physical or mental condition.
§ Jobseekers must actively seek employment in every week that they are unemployed. We are making no significant departures from the approach adopted since the benefit reforms of the 1980s. Indeed, that has now become accepted as a key responsibility of jobseekers. But in searching for work, jobseekers must adopt a flexible approach. So Regulation 18 broadens the range of steps expected of a jobseeker so that they include actions to improve prospects of employment, such as drawing up a CV or seeking specialist advice. At the 1235 same time, we are ensuring that jobseekers who deliberately undermine their chances of finding work may be penalised.
§ As a new condition of entitlement, claimants must enter into a jobseeker's agreement with the Employment Service. Each agreement will be individually tailored, recording how each jobseeker will be available for work and the best route for him or her to find a job. The agreement will ensure that jobseekers have information about the expert advice and services available at Jobcentres. Trials of a prototype of the agreement have already been conducted in some Jobcentres, with very encouraging reactions from jobseekers. As some noble Lords will recall, many of the provisions relating to the agreement, and the access to independent adjudication for the resolution of disputes, lie in the Act itself. The regulations before the House today cover a number of more minor details such as the prescribed contents and the circumstances relevant for the backdating of an agreement.
§ The vast majority of unemployed people make every effort to find work, but we need effective measures against the minority who do not. Social security law has always included penalties for those who break the rules. It is wholly reasonable that those who pay taxes should not subsidise those who make little attempt to get a job.
§ The sanctions regime in JSA is detailed in Part V of the regulations. These will make it crystal clear that those who do not meet their obligations will suffer a loss of benefit. The Act sets out those obligations and the sanctions which may be imposed. However, we also recognise that sanctions should not be imposed where a jobseeker has good cause for his actions in, for example, refusing the offer of a job or a place on an employment course. Regulations 72 and 73 set out the circumstances that we expect independent adjudication officers to consider and the circumstances in which a jobseeker is to be regarded as having good cause.
§ A balance also has to be struck between protecting the taxpayer and protecting the vulnerable from loss of benefit which may subject them to unreasonable hardship. Part IX covers the regulations on how we shall protect those most at risk of hardship, who are listed in Regulation 140. Claimants with children, those who are sick, disabled or pregnant—or who have partners in that position—and those with caring responsibilities will at any time be able to receive reduced payments if they would otherwise suffer hardship. Regulations 141 to 144 detail the circumstances in which payments may be made, which include protection against delays in the system of deciding entitlement to benefit.
§ The Government guarantee every young person under the age of 18 who wants one a suitable youth training place. We are spending £676 million on youth training this year in England alone. There is no reason why young people need to be unemployed.
§ The Government's guarantee to 16 and 17 year-olds removes the need for general access to benefits. Indeed, we do not wish to encourage dependency on benefit at such an early age. The current approach in income support will, therefore, be followed in JSA. We 1236 recognise, of course, that there are circumstances when young people do need to claim benefits. We provide for them and will continue in JSA to do so. Part IV provides that young people in vulnerable groups—for example, those who have recently left local authority care—will be able to claim JSA for a period to allow them to overcome their temporary difficulties. Young people who are waiting for a suitable youth training place will be able to claim JSA if they would otherwise suffer severe hardship.
§ We also aim to improve the help and service to young people. A specially tailored jobseeker's agreement will be introduced under Regulation 66. The agreement will reflect the Government's commitment to the importance of training for young people. It will build on a form completed at the Careers Service and will include details of the type of training and work the young person is seeking and the action agreed to achieve his goals. The vital role of the Careers Service will continue but now as part of a two-stop service; a young person need only have contact with the Careers Service and the Jobcentre to make a claim for JSA. He will no longer also have to attend the Benefits Agency.
§ The new allowance will provide financial help for unemployed people and their dependants according to their needs, and this will be paid as long as they need it. Those who have paid sufficient national insurance contributions will receive a personal rate, irrespective of their capital or their partner's earnings, for up to six months—the point by which the majority of jobseekers have left unemployment. The majority of unemployed people will, we expect, receive the income-based element of JSA. In bringing together contribution-based and income-based elements, we will provide a single coherent benefit for unemployed people. There will be an end to the confusion where unemployed people could be entitled to one or the other benefit, with different rules and handled by different agencies, or even to both benefits at the same time.
§ Much of the content of the regulations before the House today deals with the assessment of the amounts of benefit to which people are entitled: for instance Part VII deals with the applicable amounts, and Part VIII with the treatment of income, of capital or of earnings. In the majority of cases we have had the example of income support to follow. There will, however, be some significant improvements. For instance, we will provide new help for couples, enabling partners of JSA claimants to work up to 24 hours—not 16 as now—which will encourage partners to remain in or take part-time work. Couples will also be able to earn £10 without their allowance being affected, even if only one is working.
§ Many unemployed people get substantial occupational pensions from their previous employer. Pensions are already fully taken into account in income support and it is right, too, that larger occupational and personal pensions should reduce the amount of contribution-based benefit for people of any age. But the present limit is too severe. Regulation 81, therefore, removes the arbitrary age threshold and raises the amount of pension that can be paid without affecting benefit from £35 to £50 a week.1237
§ Throughout the passage of the Jobseekers Bill we emphasised that JSA should be seen as one of a far-reaching package of work incentive measures. The other sets of regulations before the House today complete the picture. The unemployment and poverty traps have been significantly alleviated over recent years. Only a tiny proportion of the working population would not be better off in work than remaining on out-of-work benefits. This imaginative package of regulations we have today addresses three big issues. II gives direct encouragement to unemployed people to undertake part-time work and to use that as a stepping stone to full-time work. It removes uncertainty at the point of moving into work, and it encourages employers to look more favourably on the long-term unemployed.
§ The back-to-work bonus is a clear demonstration of our resolve to remove disincentives within the benefit system. At present unemployed people who take part-time jobs can lose benefit almost pound for pound. Yet if they could keep their full benefit on top of their part-time earnings they would have little incentive to go on to full-time work. The back-to-work bonus squares this circle. It is a far more effective and better targeted measure than would be raising earnings disregards across the board.
§ Jobseekers and their partners who take small amounts of work while on benefit can build up entitlement to a lump sum bonus of up to —1,000. They can cash this in when they move off benefit into work. The bonus will be paid to people who move off JSA at pension age, and at the age of 60 to income support claimants who have participated in the scheme, so that the bonus will not be lost. Following commitments which I made, and which my honourable friends made in another place during the passage of the Bill, the regulations provide for extensive linking rules to protect the position of many people who leave JSA for incapacity benefit during long periods of sickness or disability. We expect to pay at least 150,000 bonuses each year once the scheme is up and running. This scheme will encourage people to stay in touch with the world of work while they are on benefit and to keep their skills up to date. It will give claimants a financial boost at a crucial time by helping them to meet the expenses connected with the move back to work.
§ Building on the incentives for the long-term unemployed already provided by programmes funded by the Department for Education and Employment, today's regulations also provide for a national insurance contribution holiday of up to 12 months for employers who employ someone who has been out of work for two years or more. This will encourage employers to take on long-term unemployed people. Some 130,000 people are likely to be helped in this scheme and it is worth some £50 million a year to employers in national insurance savings.
§ Finally, I commend to the House the amendments to housing benefit and council tax benefit regulations. These underpin the measures being introduced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security to enable housing and council tax benefits to run on for four weeks regardless of earnings for people who leave unemployment for work. The purpose of the measure is twofold. First, it enahles authorities to 1238 exchange information about housing benefit and council tax benefit details. Secondly, it ensures that local authorities give priority to dealing with claims from those who take advantage of the run-on. Any on-going entitlement to benefit will be established before the end of the run-on period so that there is no delay in the payment of housing benefit if an individual is entitled to it. In this way the claimant is protected from the sort of gap in income which currently causes concern and difficulties on returning to work. That fear can sometimes act as a deterrent to taking a job.
§ Before I sit down your Lordships should be aware that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has drawn the special attention of the House to the JSA regulations. The fifth report has drawn attention to Regulation 150 where there are two printers' errors in the formulae and the committee has reported Regulation 152 as being defectively drafted to both Houses. The correct formulae are reproduced in a memorandum which was sent to the JCSI by the Department of Social Security and is attached as an annex to the fifth report. As both mistakes were as a result of printers' error we have undertaken to correct these errors in the version of the regulations published following approval of both Houses. Quite simply two numbers—in both cases a seven—have been printed in the final copy in the wrong place.
§ With regard to the defective drafting, it would appear that the gremlins which affected our regulations have also been busy in the JCSI report. The absence of the definition of the variable "N" for which Regulation 152 was reported as being defectively drafted is in fact missing from Regulation 151. It appears that both the committee and ourselves have suffered from the same printing gremlins. The committee pointed out that the meaning of "N" is reasonably clear but nevertheless should have been included. I wish to give an undertaking that this deficiency will be corrected by means of an amending instrument as soon as possible.
§ This is an extensive and far reaching package of legislation being debated today. I recall that at one stage someone urged me not to introduce secondary legislation and to incorporate everything on the face of the Bill as it passed through the House. I indicated that that would make the Bill a great deal bigger than it was. If one looks at the regulations before us today, that goes some way towards vindicating my position. As I said, this is an extensive and a far-reaching package. There is, however, one simple, common theme to all the regulations; it is the Government's commitment to offer every help, every encouragement and every incentive to unemployed people to find work as quickly as possible. We are already offering 1.5 million opportunities to unemployed people on government programmes and will continue that commitment next year. The Employment Service is already placing record numbers of people into jobs. We want to build on that achievement. The introduction of JSA will further that success and I commend the regulations to noble Lords.
§ Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19th December be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committees].—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)1239
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, Whenever I listen to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, I am persuaded by nearly everything he says; he is one of the most convincing speakers on the Government Front Bench. However, it is only after having spent hours reading the Act and the regulations that I find an extraordinary gulf between what the Minister says will be the effects of the regulations and the legislation on which they are based and what appears to be spelt out in the paper.
I ask for the indulgence of the Minister and noble Lords while I explore the detail of the regulations, which is of concern to myself and other noble Lords.
The Minister began by making a couple of Second Reading points and I hope that he will forgive me if I do the same. The first of those points is that unemployment is very much a function of the definition of unemployment. Noble Lords should be concerned that the legislation accepts that there may be decent, honourable men and women who are unemployed through no fault of their own. They should not be defined out of existence by governments of all colours in order to show that unemployment is falling. Unemployment has been redefined on many occasions and each definition has affected the statistics.
The next Second Reading point is that I totally accept the noble Lord's submission that the proper and responsible administration of public expenditure is the responsibility of noble Lords and of another place. That however is not our sole duty and obligation. It is our obligation to balance that responsibility against ensuring that each citizen enjoys as much liberty as is constant with his acceptance of the rule of law and the rights of other people. It is in regard to that second criterion that I am profoundly concerned about the Bill because it imposes a level of petty restrictions on individuals which goes far beyond the spirit of the concept of citizenship in this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, referred to my third objection; that secondary legislation is the vehicle for so much legislation that affects ordinary citizens in their daily lives. The noble Lord indicated that significant legislation has to be in a secondary legislation form; that is, regulations and not primary legislation. It is incumbent upon both Houses of Parliament to properly scrutinise and explore that legislation when it affects tens of thousands of our fellow citizens. With great respect, two-and-a-half hours on the Floor of the Upper House is not an adequate scrutiny of these significant regulations.
I apologise to the Minister because I shall be asking him questions by rapid fire, for reasons of time, to explain or enlighten us on critical points.
The Minister was kind enough to take note of noble Lords' objections and accepts that, in regard to availability, notice given under Regulation 5 to those doing voluntary work could be extended from 24 hours to 48 hours. All those who live in the real world know that 24 hours' notice to make oneself available for work, or even 48 hours if one is undertaking a voluntary job, is a very short time. I am concerned that the 48-hour 1240 rule applies to those who may be caring for dependent children or elderly dependants. Any married woman knows that finding alternative satisfactory childcare arrangements, let alone alternative care for elderly dependants, is one of the most difficult tasks that one can undertake. I hope that the noble Lord can assure the House that the 24-hour and 48-hour conditions, under which one can lose a jobseeker's allowance if one does not satisfy them, will be interpreted generously in the case of men and women who are responsibly undertaking care of their dependants.
The Minister referred to Regulation 13, which concerns the availability for work of people who have a disability or incapacity or who cannot be invariably available for work. The Minister assured noble Lords that people could draw up a jobseeker's agreement whereby it would be understood that they could not always be available for work. Can the Minister interpret Regulation 7(3) which states that if someone is unavailable for one day or more each week they can be treated as being not available for work at all, which means that they are not entitled to jobseeker's allowance?
Can the Minister say whether there is a conflict between Regulation 9 and Regulation 16? We welcome Regulation 9. It introduces the concept that somebody may not put a floor to the remuneration they expect under a period of 26 weeks. Regulation 16 relates back to existing legislation under which the permitted period is 13 weeks. Can the Minister state whether the words "permitted period" refer to 13 weeks or 26 weeks, because that is a matter of great importance?
I turn to the area of civil liberties and Regulation 18(3) and (4). We are told that somebody could be regarded as not properly actively seeking work on the grounds of their behaviour or appearance. That aspect caused a great deal of concern when noble Lords discussed the primary legislation, because the judgment of behaviour and appearance is subjective. Many people of my generation deeply dislike seeing young men with an earring, but that is not a reason for saying that they are not actively seeking work; indeed, to their generation they may be thought only to be actively seeking certain kinds of work in the popular music field. Can the Minister assure noble Lords that this very wide phrase "behaviour and appearance" will be interpreted in a way that will not impose the employment officer's view as to what is proper behaviour and appearance, which may be different from what the hulk of our fellow citizens regard as acceptable? There are many anxieties about that matter.
Chapter 4 states that the Secretary of State will indicate who shall attend, and when, and that he can ask for such information as may be required. If they do not appear twice, having been given due notice, they can be struck off the rolls and lose their entitlement to JSA.
I am concerned that there is no reference to the ability of a jobseeker who may genuinely have become ill, or whose wife or child may have become ill, to attend at the time and place specified. I do not understand why a phrase like "without reasonable grounds" cannot be written into the legislation. We are talking about people's income and in some cases their entire means of livelihood.
1241 There is an issue under Chapter 5 in relation to so-called notional income. I ask noble Lords to give me a moment's attention. This is one of the most outrageous aspects of the regulations. Regulation 105(13) states that a jobseeker who does a service for another person will be treated as having been paid the market rate for that service if that person is able to pay that rate or, indeed, to pay at all. The regulation states that,the adjudication officer shall treat the claimant as possessing such earnings … as is reasonable for that employment unless the claimant satisfies him that the means of that person are insufficient for him to pay or to pay more for the service".In other words, if I do my neighbour a service—I do her shopping for her or decide to drive her to the local medical centre—I shall be assumed to have made the income that would be paid to a person doing that trip on a strictly commercial basis. That sum will then be deducted on the basis that it is notional income. I can think of nothing more calculated to penalise the good neighbour than this extraordinary regulation. I beg the Minister to read it again, to tell me that my interpretation is wrong, if it is, but if it is right to ensure that the regulation is withdrawn. Surely in this day and age we do not want to force good and well-meaning people to have to charge for everything they do for their neighbours when otherwise it will be held against them.
Finally, I come to a regulation which I believe is quite extraordinarily mean. I refer to the regulation on what income will be disregarded for the purposes of income related benefit. Among those sources of income where we are graciously told that –10 a week will be allowed are war widows' pensions, war disability pensions and—almost as an ironic twist to the list—the allowances provided for those who have suffered from persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime. I cannot believe that the Government really want to pinch pennies from these most deserving of all our fellow citizens.
In conclusion, I ask the Government to consider these specific regulations which appear to me to fly in the face of everything we mean by good neighbourliness and good citizenship.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, I propose to restrict my remarks to Regulation 12, which deals with voluntary work, and consequential parts of the instrument. I begin by declaring an interest as chairman of the National Trust, a body which will be intimately affected by this statutory instrument.
During the passage of the Bill last May, I and other noble Lords drew attention to the effect that the proposed regulations would have on the voluntary sector; that is to say, on our training programmes which can offer volunteers the opportunity of working towards gaining national vocational qualifications. Those programmes are an important way for young people to enter into employment as well, of course, as benefiting the charity concerned through the useful work that the volunteers carry out.
1242 There was support from all sides of the House for the important role that the voluntary sector can play in this regard. Indeed, the Minister was good enough to recognise that when he gave a commitment to reflect and consult the main voluntary organisations involved.
In August we duly received the consultation document. I have to say that yet again there seemed to us to be a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the training work that we give to volunteers; namely, a positive way of gaining real work experience, training and skills through these programmes which for many volunteers were a route—possibly their only route—to their first job. I said during the passage of the Bill, and I say it again, that some 80 per cent. of the National Trust's unemployed volunteers go on to full time employment—and that is several hundred young people a year. All of that we reiterated in our reply to the consultation document.
We now have the draft instrument itself. I have read with care and with some difficulty the relevant parts of the document. I find it an extremely difficult document to construe and to work one's way through. I shall come back to that point later.
First, we welcome the formal recognition in Regulation 12 of the existence of the voluntary sector. But the detail of this section is not encouraging. It appears extremely restrictive. To put the point quite simply, one cannot expect organisations to take people on to training schemes when the individual may, at any moment—that is, at 48 hours' notice—be required to leave his uncompleted training programme to take up full time employment, which incidentally may be quite unrelated to the skills or experience for which he has been trained. That appears to be the effect of Regulation 12, so far as I understand it.
That is not encouraging, but we find a ray of comfort when we move to Regulation 18 under Steps to be taken by persons actively seeking employment. Regulation 18(3) states:In determining whether, in relation to any steps taken by a person, the requirements of section 7(1)—that is the section which requires a person to be available for at least 40 hours' employment—are satisfied in any week, regard shall be had to all the circumstances of the case, including"—we then move to sub-paragraph (g)—any time during which he was engaged in voluntary work and the extent to which it may have improved his prospects of securing employment".In other words, if the volunteer's job prospects are improved by his voluntary work programme, he can be allowed to go ahead with his training. That sounds good, but it is crucial that it is administered in a wise and sensible manner. If so, we ought to be able to relax. However, I come back to my earlier remark regarding the complexity of the document.
It is a document which runs to 160 pages of extreme complexity, at least to me. I really wonder how the ordinary clerical officer in an employment centre can hope to carry out and, in many cases, to understand the huge amount of detail in the instrument. He will need considerable guidance.
1243 The situation is difficult enough already. We find our volunteers' schemes increasingly constricted by contradictions and confusions of current benefits rules; and we are not alone in that finding. We find much evidence up and down the country of inconsistencies in the local interpretation of the rules, and an over-rigid exercise—perhaps one should say a lack of exercise—of discretion by agency officials. How much more difficult will it be with the extremely complex rules now proposed?
In another place the Minister recently stated, in reply to a question, that training is being given and will be given to staff to implement the new regulations. I fear nevertheless that such is the length, detail and complexity of the new regulations that they will give rise to even more difficulties than those that we have experienced in recent years.
I refer to Regulation 18(2)(g). How can we get over the important point that is not brought out: that this voluntary work is training for job skills? All along this has been the message that we do not seem to be able to put over. It will be extremely difficult to get the message and the explanation of the value of structured training for volunteers across to the hundreds of clerical officers up and down the country. Therefore I conclude by asking the Minister whether the employment office will consult the main voluntary sector bodies on how job training schemes will be covered in the training and guidance to its staff. If the voluntary sector can be of any help in this respect, we would be only too happy to give whatever help we can.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I wish to raise one point on the Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations. It deals with hardship payments to people with mental health problems. At the Third Reading of the Bill, when dealing with Amendment No. 7 (which I moved) the Minister stated that the Government intended to exclude "single, healthy claimants" from benefit if they failed to meet the basic conditions of entitlement. That is from the Official Report of 23rd May 1995, at col. 956. Amendments were tabled at that stage to define "hardship" and "serious medical condition" for the purpose of hardship payments. The concern raised during the debate was the exclusion of people with mental health problems from the definition of hardship. Regulation 140(1)(g) of the regulations refers only to "physical impairment".
At Third Reading my noble friend indicated that the Government were not convinced that it was necessary to include mental health problems, as people with serious mental health problems would be treated as incapable of work and exempt from the all-work test for incapacity benefit. However, the problem is likely to arise with people whose condition may be less severe but which, none-the-less, prevents their functioning in everyday society. Already my advisers have encountered examples of people with mental health problems who have received incapacity benefit all-work test questionnaires and have been so struck with anxiety that 1244 they have been unable to complete and return them. Others have been too afraid to go for a medical examination with a strange doctor.
The incapacity benefit regulations state that if the claimant fails to attend for an examination without good cause, benefit will cease immediately. But as the onus is on the claimant to prove good cause, unless an advocate or adviser can explain the situation to the Benefits Agency, benefit could be wrongly withdrawn, with no incapacity benefit. The only option for such people is to sign on.
But people with mental health problems may have difficulty in satisfying the conditions of actively seeking work or may fail to follow a direction because of the state of their mental health rather than from any deliberate intention. The Jobseeker's Allowance Regulations will preclude anyone from claiming a hardship payment in such circumstances.
Regulation 28 ignores illness and disability as factors to be taken into account in establishing whether the claimant had good cause for not complying with a notice to attend at such place and time as specified. Taken with Regulation 140, many disabled people could fall foul of these regulations and yet be unable to claim a hardship payment as a last resort.
The definition of who is eligible for a hardship payment is further limited to people with a physical disability, a chronic medical condition which has lasted or is likely to last for 26 weeks. Can my noble friend indicate whether the 26 weeks is continuous, or would someone with an intermittent or fluctuating condition still fall within that provision? For example, what about someone with ME or arthritis who is not considered to be sufficiently "incapable of work"? Do the regulations exclude such people from hardship payments?
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, pointed out the difficulties we are having with secondary legislation. As was mentioned, the regulations are 160 pages long, but the Act under which the regulations are laid is only 52 pages long. The regulations are three times as long as the Act, yet we are spending only a short time this afternoon on them when we spent several days, working long into the night, at various stages of the Bill as it went through the House.
I wonder whether it would be sensible to have a Select Committee to examine regulations in draft. If the committee thought fit, it could take evidence as to the effects of the regulations before it. I know that it is not within my noble friend's remit to respond to that when answering the debate, but it is worth putting the comment on the record so that those who have the task of examining the matter can consider it in due course.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, unlike most of the previous speakers, apart from the beginning of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, I wish to turn from the particular to the general. I have never made any secret of the fact that I believe that the state in general and the social security system in particular should be the basic insurance system for everyone in 1245 this country. For the purposes of this debate, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that we are considering what happens when people—usually, these days, through no fault of their own—lose their jobs or fail to start on the path to work.
I should like in particular to consider the first category. At the moment, assuming that enough contributions have been paid into the National Insurance Fund, the unemployed worker receives £46.45 a week for the first year—though the ever burgeoning cost of social security has made it necessary to reduce that to six months, as we find under the order. We must not forget that for half the people who lose their jobs six months is long enough. They will be re-employed by the end of that period. The state insurance scheme has worked for them, although they will almost certainly have had to tighten their belts and exist on a reduced income. Most of them will have savings; some will have a working partner. I have mentioned it in this House before but I must tell my noble friend that I still fail to understand why we should bother with them at all. Why can we not have a means-tested benefit from the beginning, with the quid pro quo of a reduced national insurance payment? That has never been answered to my satisfaction and I may return to the point later, either today or on another occasion.
That said, three months later (that is nine months after redundancy or whatever the reason there may be for unemployment) another half—in other words three-quarters of the original—will be back in work. The Government have gone some way towards my ideal here. From six months and a day, benefit is means-tested and the equivalent of income support comes into play. Quite right, say I. The trouble is that there have been times when that is paid at a different rate. When it happens, it is either unfair or generous, depending on whether the unemployment benefit or the income support is the higher. Unless my information is terribly out of date, at today's rate income support for a single man of 25 years or over is £46.50; unemployment benefit is 5 pence lower. On the other hand, a couple on income support will receive £73, but on unemployment benefit it will be £75.10. We should have done something about that years ago.
From October, we are to have a unified benefit for the jobseeker's allowance. It will not matter whether an individual is impoverished, the payments will, as 1 understand it, be the same in the first six months. If the individual falls below the means test level it will remain the same thereafter, always supposing that there is no part-time work available. If so, there is a new and welcome carrot in the jobseeker's allowance. Although, as heretofore, the allowance is to be reduced by the amount of earnings, a credit of half the amount taken away is to be credited to the claimant and may be redeemed up to —1,000 when he or she gets into full-time work.
From the point of view of the operation of the scheme, that is a complication. We will only know whether it will work after it has been operating for a while. Will people claim it? Will it be paid promptly? I was grateful for my noble friend's commitment on that latter point. We do not know, but on paper at least it 1246 should be a winner. That complication, though, in the operation of the scheme must pale into insignificance when one considers the costs of currently operating what are two schemes, with two bank accounts, two sets of rules and two sets of civil servants to operate them.
I know that putative savings were given in the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill which underpins today's orders; but I should be grateful if my noble friend could give us the figures, revised as they should have been, now that more thought has been given to them. Not only will there be a saving to the taxpayer in administration costs; there will also be a lot more clarity for claimants. My noble friend probably has at his fingertips the number of different rules now in place, depending on whether a claim is being made for income support or unemployment benefit. If he does not, they jolly well ought to be at arm's length.
Under JSA there is to be only one set of rules, and normally one benefit office—the Jobcentre. Incidentally, I wonder what "normally" means. I also wonder what pressure could be put on those out of benefit not receiving the JSA after the first six months. At the same time, I reiterate a point already made several times that these regulations are extremely lengthy and extremely complicated. Not only will they be extremely difficult for the adjudication officers; they will be even more difficult for claimants. I should like to be told that there will be produced, as quickly as these regulations have been, a claimant's guide so that people know what the rules and regulations are as they affect them.
That said, JSA is a better, clearer system of state aid for the unemployed. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I will never agree that it is right that 18 to 24 year-olds should be paid less under any scheme, and I am sure that the noble Earl is about to regret that that has been continued. We shall see. I realise I am putting words into his mouth. The arguments pro and con have been set out endlessly over many years and we shall just have to agree to differ.
However, what matters is not so much the insurance policy but the success rate in getting people back to work. Unemployment benefit, income support or the new jobseeker's allowance should not be seen as a right but as the government side of a contract. Claimants should do all in their power to help themselves back into work, and if necessary Jobcentres should help them. That, after all, is their commensurate duty. In other words, there should be, as I say, a contract between the unemployed and the Government. While I have never heard it expressed quite like that, that is in effect what we now have under these regulations. Unemployed people already have to be available for and actively seeking work for 40 hours or more a week. They can, if necessary, be instructed to take certain steps to find work. That is quite right. After all, in any other sphere rights and duties go together. Why not here?
During the lifetime of this Government there have been several major improvements to the social security system, both to help people find work and to help them while they are in work. It has, in a word, become more attractive to be in work. Under the Fowler reforms the structure of income-related benefits was streamlined, so 1247 workers keep more of every pound earned. National insurance payments have been progressively reduced. Family credit was a successful reformulation of the old family allowances scheme, for people who had children and were in low-paid work. More recently, the disabled workers' allowance, of which I am particularly proud, was introduced—not only for families with a disabled earner but for single disabled people. Also, family credit has been extended to those working between 16 and 24 hours a week. Those examples are on the financial side.
On the practical side, we now have training for work, job clubs, the job interview guarantee, work trials, job plan workshops, restart courses, the jobfinder's grant and the travel to interview scheme. They may not be perfect, and one can no doubt pick holes in any one of them. But it is undeniable that at the last count they covered 1,226,000 people. The Opposition will no doubt comment rather sourly that they need to. Yes, I agree with them; they do need to. But surely the point is that whatever the level of unemployment, for the individual it is always demoralising and always descends into a dismal spiral.
Where were the equivalent schemes when we entered government? Where are the great ideas to replace them after the election that the Labour Party believe they will win? Or perhaps they believe that they do not need replacing because they are working. Are we to have a blinding admission that they are here to stay? After all, a constant reduction in the unemployment figures for the past 28 months, with an average fall of over 12,000 a month in the past six months, at a time of low growth does not just happen, does it? There must be a reason for it. I am no economist, and I should love to know an economist's view on that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in his place. Perhaps he can make a three-minute intervention when I have sat down.
The only consistent policy I have heard of from the party opposite is the national minimum wage and the social chapter. When I had that thought on the train this morning travelling to London I remembered that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, had made remarks on the minimum wage in a debate some time ago. I asked him if I could quote him, to which he replied that he would be delighted. That is what I now propose to do, very briefly. The noble Lord said:A minimum wage policy raises the average cost per employee, but it lowers the marginal cost of an employee … If I had a blackboard I could demonstrate as part of elementary economic theory that a minimum wage may just as likely be employment-creating as employment-destroying. Therefore, one needs to look at the evidence … the evidence does not tell us one way or the other. There are studies showing that a minimum wage can lose jobs and other studies, interestingly enough, showing that such a policy can create jobs. Therefore, I am a hit puzzled by the strength of some noble Lords' opposition to a minimum wage. To put it at its mildest, which is all that I want to do today, the point is arguable".—[Official Report, 7/12/94; col. 963.]From that, I draw the conclusion that if the point is at least arguable, the Opposition will do it anyway, and I should not have thought that that was exactly conviction politics. The other matter to mention in this regard is the social chapter. It sits rather oddly—does it not?— 1248 with the attitude sometimes exhibited from the Front Bench opposite on the subject of part-time work. Probably, both those matters ought to be left alone.
What no one can afford to leave alone is the costs and benefits of our social security provision. How easy it is to find improvements for people less fortunate than ourselves. How hard it is becoming to find the money to pay for that. I have been convinced for some time now that there are ways by which both can be reconciled. At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned the first six months of unemployment and my belief that for a lot of people it is simply not necessary.
There are of course other ideas that come to the fore from time to time, some of which have had a lot of effort put into them by the party opposite. I wonder, for instance, what happened to the idea of taxing child allowance. Perhaps it will re-emerge in the Opposition's third look at social security. Perhaps not—in the circumstances it is not an obvious vote winner.
What has emerged from my right honourable friend Mr. Lilley and his department is a very useful and very fair tidying up exercise which will—given that, as I hope, my noble friend will announce today a claimant's guide—benefit both the taxpayer and the claimant. I wish them well with the jobseeker's allowance.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I wish very much to reinforce the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and by the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, about the 48-hour limit, both for people with caring responsibilities and for volunteers. If these were not regulations but had been part of the Bill on which we could vote, I believe that the 48-hour limit would be a matter on which an amendment would have been tabled, and on which I suspect the Government would have lost.
That is a good argument in itself for saying that there is much in the regulations which ought not to be in the form of regulations but ought to be in primary legislation so that the House could amend and change some of these very, very important matters. They are not minor details. They are not matters that should be in regulations because they can and need to be changed at frequent intervals. They are in themselves matters of principle and should therefore be in primary legislation.
I was most interested in the proposal put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen; namely, if we are to have regulations of this detail and this length, a procedure should be developed—perhaps the usual channels and those who consider the way in which this House is run could examine the matter—so that we are not again landed with a mammoth document of this kind, not only in length but in the importance of its detail. I wish to speak about some of the details. I will stop if the Minister wishes to finish his conversation; I do not know whether that is convenient to him. I have not spent years teaching in a university without knowing how to stop people who gossip!
I refer to the 48-hour limit for carers. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is a man of considerable imagination and sympathy. I am sure he must be aware that if a person looks after an elderly or infirm 1249 person or a good child—or, more likely, a fractious child—to get someone else to take on the job is not something that can be done in a great many cases in a matter of 48 hours. There are not queues of people lined up wanting to do the job. A conscientious carer of an old, ill or young person will make good arrangements—not just any old arrangements, dumping the person on the first carer who happens to be around. He or she will wish to find a suitable person. When I had such a responsibility I was convinced that I could not possibly find a satisfactory carer for a stroke victim within 48 hours. One is not prepared to abandon a person for whom one cares unless very good arrangements can be made. I beg the noble Lord to think about it again.
Today volunteers are an important part of the way in which voluntary organisations are run. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, spoke about this in relation to the National Trust. We in the Apex Trust have been using volunteers to very good effect. They are valuable to us. It would be extremely awkward if, in order to comply with the 48-hour rule, they had to down tools and go at two days' notice.
There is another reason, with which I am sure the noble Lord will sympathise, why we want volunteers to be encouraged and not discouraged and to be able to carry out voluntary obligations satisfactorily. With the new methods of training and examining which come with the NVQs—I speak as chairman of the administration lead body—people receive training in voluntary work which enables them to comply with the requirements of NVQ and obtain a qualification. That is exactly the kind of thing that the noble Lord wants them to do. It will enable them to get jobs. To achieve level 1 or level 2 of an NVQ can greatly enhance a person's opportunity to obtain work. The regulations ought to be such as to give the greatest possible encouragement to volunteers; they should not make the requirements so tight and restrictive as to discourage voluntary work. I beg the noble Lord to look again at that limitation, which will prove to be very severe for a great many people. The disadvantages spread beyond the particular disadvantage to the individual concerned.
I should like to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said about behaviour and appearance. She quoted the case of a man who had one earring who might be somewhat unacceptable to a regular employment officer in the Employment Service. I am not familiar with the kind of work that is carried out by people with one earring. However, if I am not mistaken, I believe that there are some jobs in which it may be a disqualification not to wear one earring. There is a whole market for one-earring clients. If such people turned up for work looking more like the noble Lord, they probably would not get the job. They would have to go home to redress and equip themselves with one earring in order to be satisfactory employees in that field. That is perhaps slightly frivolous, but today there are a number of jobs on the periphery of normal employment. There are still jobs for those who do not look like those who obtain jobs in banks or the more usual areas of employment.
1250 Finally, the noble Lord claims that this measure will make it easier—I am sure it will—for people who are at present unemployed and will give them greater encouragement to get back to work. However, in my view, it does not go anything like far enough. Our present social security provisions are such that there is a real disincentive to take on jobs. I remind the noble Lord that not so long ago the applied economics unit at Cambridge came up with some figures—I accept that this Act will modify the position, but only to a very mild extent—which showed that if a man and his wife were both unemployed and had two children at school, in order to increase the family income by £20 they would have to earn £170 because of the limitations of the benefits system and the passport benefits which went with income support. While I accept that the Act goes a little way to alleviate this ridiculous situation, I ask whether there is any Member of your Lordships' House who will do —170 worth of work in order to get £20. As long as that situation obtains, no changes in the system of benefits will make a great deal of difference. This is a step in the right direction, but a very small one.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, invited me to comment I saw the Minister vigorously shaking his hand in the hope that I would not do any such thing because it would only delay matters further. I shall try to be brief.
This is not a simple matter of social insurance; it is jointly a matter of social insurance and a bureaucratic set of rules. We have 160 pages of rules for what should be a much simpler matter. While the Government try to encourage jobseeking, they still believe that people are unemployed because there are jobs that they are not seeking. I believe that that is a fallacy. If unemployment has been going down for the past 28 months it is because we have had a recovery during that time and for the 36 months before that the number of jobs was going down because of recession.
Whether or not jobs are there does not have so much effect on the behaviour of jobseekers as does the macro economy. Whether or not you have a minimum wage, the effect on employment will depend on what else you do to encourage the economy. In general, if you do not do anything to encourage the economy unemployment will increase—jobseeker's allowance or no jobseeker's allowance. That point has not yet been understood by the Government. The general climate of investment and recovery and what one does about taxation and interest rates are the matters which determine unemployment, not these rules, desirable though they may be.
The problem that the Government have not thought through for the past 16 years is that if they wish to encourage good behaviour they should stop suspecting, as the welfare state inevitably does, citizens of being out to cheat. We have 160 pages of regulations 1251 because the state begins with the suspicion that honest citizens are about to cheat. Without that suspicion one would not need 160 pages but perhaps only two.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I was very interested in the suggestion of a claimant's guide from the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I entirely agree with him and with the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, about the difficulty of understanding many of the regulations. If that suggestion were adopted, I should welcome it. I wonder whether the Minister would place that—or, at the very least, the guidance for the employment officers and adjudication officers—in the Library of your Lordships' House. He might find that it would save him a good deal of unnecessary correspondence.
I congratulate the Minister on the lucid way in which he introduced the regulations. However, he made one comment which surprised me a little. He described the regulations as "minor details". Details they may be, but they will affect the lives of more people in a more significant way than will perhaps any Bill that is likely to come before us this Session. Under those circumstances they need individual examination, regulation by regulation.
Your Lordships' House collectively possesses a considerable amount of expertise. I regret that we are not using a procedure that enables us to scrutinise the regulations one by one. In that context, I was most interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. I hope that more thought will be given to them all around the House.
I shall attempt to resist the temptation to make a Second Reading speech and I shall address the regulations one by one. I take first the transitional provisions under Statutory Instrument No. 3276. I was a little taken aback by Regulation 16 of those regulations concerning "Questions not immediately ascertainable". It provides first that the housing costs which are to be included in the claimant's applicable amount are those which are immediately ascertainable. I dare say that, before we have gone through the Leasehold (Reform) Bill, which I understand is likely to be laid before us shortly, we may have heard a good deal more of that provision.
The second half of that regulation provides that, where any of the questions cannot be immediately determined, the adjudication officer,shall proceed to determine the … question on the assumption that the determination of that question will be adverse to the claimant".I find it somewhat hard to reconcile that statement with the principles of natural justice, as I understand them.
Your Lordships may be aware that there has been a learned exchange taking place in the columns of Public Law about the relationship between statute and the principles of natural justice. It is an arcane question in which, wearing my other hat, I have some interest. In the course of that exchange, I was taken to task by Mr. Justice Laws for giving too much weight to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. The Minister 1252 does not always realise when he is well off. But, in the light of that debate, I cannot help but wonder whether that regulation was drafted in order to lead Her Majesty's judges into temptation. I am sure that they can resist it, but it is not always wise to lead people into temptation.
In the income support consequential amendments regulations, I was struck by a regulation which dealt with those people over 50 who had not worked for over 10 years. It occurred to me to check how many people might be affected by the regulation. According to a Written Answer last Tuesday, the number is 2,594,000. That is rather a lot of people. It helps to explain why the number of people on income support is rising, even though the number of people unemployed is going down. That is a matter to which we may return on another occasion.
I warmly welcome the housing benefit and council tax benefit run-on regulations. I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, into the interstices of the minimum wage, save only to draw to the Minister's attention the report in yesterday's Independent on Sunday that the state is now spending on in-work benefits to subsidise low wages —2.9 billion every year. I should be glad of a comment on the accuracy or otherwise of that figure.
With regard to Regulation 5 on carers and availability, I agree with everything said by my noble friends Lady Seear and Lady Williams of Crosby. I point out that the 48 hours covers days of non-availability, such as Sunday. One cannot normally ring up a nursery on a Sunday. I thought that that provision was a little unnecessary and could perhaps have been dispensed with.
I want to raise a point of interpretation on Regulation 11 about part-time students. There is an obligation on a part-time student to rearrange his course in order to adjust his availability, if necessary. Is there a parallel obligation on the teacher of the course to accept the rearrangement? It is a question in which I should declare an interest. If there is not, it puts the claimant in an intolerable position between the upper and the nether millstone; and if there is an obligation on the teacher, with many different people in the class it may be that there will be no time at all when the classes can be held. We need communication between the two departments on that point, and indeed on many others.
Regulation 13(2) allows an exemption to availability regulations for "a sincerely held religious belief". Who is to decide whether a religious belief is sincerely held? It is not an area in which the competence of the state is immediately obvious to me. Were the right reverend Prelate still in the Chamber I should be interested to hear his comments on that regulation. Also, such an exception for sincerely held religious belief is allowed provided the claimant can show real prospects of employment. I am reminded of the speech in the debate on the Address in the Session before last made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. He drew attention to the danger that Sunday working, especially in the retail trade, might become so normal that someone with a conscientious objection to it might not have a 1253 real prospect of employment. I should be grateful if the Government could once again consult the Churches and other concerned bodies on that matter. I am anxious about the drafting of that point.
Regulations 16 and 9 raise the conflict to which my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby referred. My understanding—I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—is that there is flexibility within the period of six months. I am interested in the flexibility provided by Regulation 16. It is an example of Rentonian principles of drafting in regulation, which is a rare swallow that I welcome. I hope that it may make a summer. But I should like to know whether the interpretation will be made by the discretion of the adjudication officer or whether it will all be covered in guidance.
Regulation 14, as I understand it, deals with male carers caring for children during a spouse's absence from the country for a period not over eight weeks. If I have understood that aright, it is not applied on a sex-blind basis. A woman may be exempt from availability regulations if she is caring for a child. But If a man may be exempt only when caring for a child during that period of eight weeks, that is not on a level basis. We know that 9 per cent. of single parents are male. Their rights need attention and the drafting of that regulation needs attention.
Like other people, I have some doubts about Regulation 18(4). It covers steps for seeking work which may be disregarded if the claimant is guilty of violent or abusive behaviour. There is no dispute about the objective of that regulation. But "abusive behaviour", especially for someone who knows that hope deferred maketh the heart grow sick, presents a difficulty.
Let me put to the Minister a case which happened at my local Jobcentre. Can he say whether this is abusive behaviour within the meaning of the proverbial Act? A woman, late on a Friday afternoon, was attempting to obtain benefit. She was told that she could not obtain anything until after the weekend. She dumped her baby on the counter and said, "All right, you feed him then" and ran out of the door. Mother and baby were subsequently reunited but, meanwhile, the Jobcentre staff had fed the baby over the weekend. Was that woman guilty of abusive behaviour or not? It is perhaps a case where the prerogative of mercy might have been relevant.
On behaviour or appearance I agree strongly with the points made by my noble friend Lady Seear. I have heard it said that in the Old Bailey the surest way to be disqualified as a juror is to turn up wearing a pinstriped suit with a rolled umbrella and carrying a copy of the Daily Telegraph. Dress codes are appropriate to specific contexts. We have all misjudged the dress code in contexts with which we are not familiar. That is why I should have liked the regulation to have a provision for mens rea; dress codes in order to make themselves less suitable for employment. It would of course make proof more difficult, but that is simply the real world.
There are some parts that I welcome. Regulation 61(f), providing a concession for 16 and 17 year-olds who are enlisting in the Army, is a case in point. I thank the 1254 Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and also the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who said that this was the only one of my amendments on that subject which he thought was not wholly without merit. It is the most delightfully back-handed support I have ever received. I think it was effective and I am grateful for it.
Regulation 63 provides for a 40 per cent. reduction in benefit for those refusing training. It does not include the words for which my noble friend Lady Seear has asked over and over again; that is, "suitable training". It raises the prospect of a case like the one once raised by the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, of the young man who asked to work with animals and was sent to work in an abattoir. Would that person be subjected to a 40 per cent. reduction in benefit?
The other point on which I cannot resist commenting in relation to the 40 per cent. reduction for refusing training is that I am most intrigued to find Mr. Gordon Brown writing government policy. That truly is a resurrection of Butskellism.
Regulation 72, the good cause provision, is better than we thought it might be during the passage of the Bill. I owe a great deal of thanks to both Ministers and to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who is especially responsible for that clause. The good cause provisions specify that good causes for refusing or leaving a job "shall include" the ones specified. That means that they allow for the possibility that there may be other good causes.
I am delighted to see the provisions allowing people to refuse a job if the cost of travelling to work or the job expenses are too high. That is valuable. I am also delighted to see that one is not to be forced to take a job paying commission only. That again was a concession made in the course of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and I am delighted it has been included. It is not a big concession, but it is a great deal better than nothing and I am pleased about it.
In relation to Part VII I want to ask who is to be responsible for up-rating the benefits. I do not want it to be like the Walcheren Expedition:Great Chatham with his sabre drawn Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan; Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em, Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham".I hope that well before the public expenditure round begins we will know who is to up-rate the benefits and that something will be done about it.
The applicable amount for 16 and 17 year-olds who receive income support is —28.85 a week. That is derisory. I want to know why, when severe hardship payments are allowed, the 40 per cent. reduction applies equally to 16 and 17 year-olds even though the amount being reduced is itself smaller, That is a subsistence payment. It is a hardship payment. The Government's justifications of the distinction between the older and the younger rates of benefit simply do not apply to a hardship payment. They had better think of a new one quickly and I shall he interested to see whether they have done so before the Minister sits down.
1255 Regulation 95(2) on royalty income needs rewriting. In relation to Regulation 140 I have asked the Minister before why it is government policy that the single cannot suffer hardship. I hope that this time we may receive an answer.
There are genuinely small mercies in these regulations. I thank the Minister for them. But they are small mercies and I hope the Minister will understand that the fact that I have not made the Second Reading speech the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, expected, does not mean that I have in any way retreated from the points I would have made. I still think them, though I have not bothered to make them at the moment.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, I know that I accused myself earlier this afternoon of putting words into the mouths of other noble Lords, but I did not put those words into the mouth of the noble Earl.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, these regulations comprise 160 pages and are 10,000 lines long—three times longer than the original Bill. I trust therefore that your Lordships will understand if, instead of picking away at some of the quite serious misprints to which the Minister drew our attention in Regulations 150 and 151, or the inconsistencies between Regulations 9 and 16, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, drew our attention, I instead seek to revisit some of the principal issues that are detailed here and made explicit for the first time. In that process I hope to persuade the Minister, even at this late stage, of how profoundly wrong are both the Act and these regulations.
We accept that some regulations are indeed welcome; for example, the rollover of housing and council tax benefits. We wait to see the effect of other regulations, such as the back-to-work bonus. Let us recall that what the regulations make explicit is how the Government propose to integrate, to bring together, unemployment benefit (the contributory national insurance benefit) and income support (the means-tested benefit for the unemployed) into one jobseeker's benefit.
Two hundred and fifty thousand people will be worse off as a result of the regulations. People who have paid their national insurance contribution, who have seen the contribution go up by 50 per cent. (it was 6.5 per cent. in 1979 and is now 10 per cent.) and who kept their side of the national insurance contract, now find that the contributory unemployment benefit time period has been halved. After six months, not 12 months, it will be means tested. If they claim for a wife or an adult dependant, it will be means tested from the very start, as though they had never paid any national insurance contributions at all for that purpose. Had any private employer, insurer or pension provider tried to do the same, they may have found themselves being taken to court.
1256 In addition, as we see from the regulations, not only is the insured benefit cut, but the conditions of receiving it have been made more stringent and arduous. Regulation 79 relates to young people under 25. Though they pay the same national insurance contribution as everyone else, their benefit will be reduced—not because they need less than the rest, but merely because they are younger than the rest.
As regards Regulation 107, any older men leaving with redundancy payments of £3,000 or more when their employment folds, will now find after, say, six months, that that may well make them ineligible for JSA until they have lived off and eaten up their redundancy payment as it takes them above the capital limit. Any claimant who has a partner working more than 24 hours a week, however little that partner may earn, will, after six months, find himself ineligible for JSA.
Regulation 13 affects the chronically sick and disabled. Of that group 250,000 have been removed from invalidity benefit and are being told to apply for the jobseeker's allowance. They may find themselves not disabled enough to claim incapacity benefit, but insufficiently fit to claim the jobseeker's allowance. I do not doubt that the Minister will assure us that that will not happen. We hope he is right, but if he is wrong, I can promise him that he will know about it. Anyone who has learning difficulties; anyone for whom English is a second language, and anyone less than competent to cope with the benefits system, is at risk of being assessed as not actively seeking work and losing his or her benefit.
Why are the Government doing this? Basically, we have been offered two reasons. The first is to create a flexible labour market, as the Minister told us today. The second, as the Minister has told us on other occasions, is to end welfare dependency. If those are the Government's objectives, their strategy is profoundly wrong.
As regards a flexible labour market, the Government have always insisted that if people were flexible about their wages—in other words, were prepared to accept poverty wages—they would somehow price themselves into jobs. Jobs will appear by magic out of the woodwork. Even now the Director-General of the CBI does not believe that. Pay has fallen: over I million people now earn less than £2.50 an hour and one-third of a million people earn less than £1.50 an hour. People have accepted poverty wages. If the Government were right, that would generate more jobs. But has it? On the contrary, when the minimum wages set by the wages councils were abolished, pay fell by up to one-quarter, while at the same time about 18,000 jobs in the industries covered by the wages councils were lost.
No, poverty pay does not increase employment. It simply pays poverty wages for the same work. What it does do—and this was touched on by previous speakers—is increase the social security bill so that family credit, housing benefit and council tax are needed to turn a poverty wage into a living wage. The number of people on family credit in the past five years has doubled; the bill has trebled. Every pound sliced off the wages bill under the pressure of JSA could add an extra 1257 70p or 80p in the pound to the social security bill. The result is a soaring social security budget, and the Government then complain about the rise in costs that they themselves have engineered.
The Government tell us that registered unemployment has fallen. They are right and we welcome that. But labour market research suggests that that is not so much because more jobs have been created, but because, in addition to the factors mentioned by my noble friend Lord Desai, fewer young people are leaving school and a higher proportion of them are going into further and higher education. Demography rather than a strengthened economy is the reason. I suggest that much more significantly, since the Prime Minister took office five years ago, unemployment has grown by 32 per cent. and long-term unemployment by 70 per cent. In Britain male unemployment in the age group 25 to 54—a group about which I believe we are all especially concerned—is nearly 15 per cent.; in the United States of America and Germany it is 12 per cent.; and in France it is 9 per cent. If the Government count that as success, what do they suggest would count as failure? So the first argument that the Government have adduced for these regulations is a flexible labour market to push down wages and to create more jobs. They have certainly pushed down wages, but they have not created more jobs. They have added to the social security bill.
The second proposition offered to us behind these regulations is the need to end welfare dependency. The assumption seems to be that if only people searched harder and accepted lower wages, they would find work, but instead benefits have made life too cosy and comfortable; that the unemployed need to be "braced" by benefit cuts into entering the real world of zero-hour contracts; namely, "Hang around for 40 hours so that I can employ you for any 15 of them" or of temporary work, or portfolios of fragments of jobs, with no pension, no sick pay, no holiday entitlement and no security.
What evidence is there that the benefit system discourages people from seeking and taking up work? The answer is, none. All the evidence, much of it commissioned by government, runs the other way. Benefit levels in Britain, relative to wages, are among the lowest in Europe and in the OECD. When people go on benefit most find their income halved. Most people would return to work if their wage passed the benefit level by only modest amounts. Men and women in Britain are on benefit not because they are idle and will riot work, which is the assumption of the JSA and these regulations, but because they are unemployed and cannot find work.
There are 12 people in Britain today chasing every single registered vacancy. There are 20 people in London today chasing every single registered vacancy. Recently 700 men queued for one job as a van driver. That is why men and women are dependent on benefit. They are demoralised by the Government's mismanagement of the economy and not by their own lack of moral fibre. The JSA will cut the benefit bill, certainly, by taking money away from the unemployed on which they need to live.
1258 What shred of evidence do the Government have that the harshness of JSA and these regulations will create even one extra job? Instead of 12 people chasing each registered vacancy today, let us say that JSA dragoons one extra person and 13 people chase the registered vacancies, each and every day. How will that create one single extra job? Only when the Government can point to jobs paying an adequate wage, left unfilled by men and women who choose instead to remain on benefit, will the Government be entitled to talk about welfare dependency. Meanwhile the government strategy is indeed creating welfare dependency—that of the employer on the welfare system to subsidise his wages bill. In that respect our employers are among the most subsidised and our unemployed among the least supported anywhere in the OECD. It is perverse. Every regulation in this document makes the situation worse.
What does the Government's own research tell us is the best way back to work and to expand the labour market? As the Government know, the first is to educate and skill yourself. For example, recent research into lone parents shows that those left behind when their children go to school and who wish to re-enter the labour market, are precisely those with no educational qualifications. What do the Government do in these regulations? They promptly cut the number of hours from 21 to 16 for which one may study and still retain benefit. Any other country would encourage the unemployed to train, to study and to build up qualifications. Only in Britain do we penalise the unemployed by removing benefit. It is quite perverse.
Secondly, we know that the only really effective way to get a job is to have somebody in the family with a job and, through them, to remain attached to the labour market. All the research shows that what helps someone into the labour market is who the family knows. So, a wise government would be doing everything possible to keep at least one member of a family in work in order to help the others back into the labour market. But what do the regulations do? They construct a benefit system which, by means-testing, penalises the partner who is in work by removing benefit pound for pound from the one who is unemployed. Not surprisingly, therefore, any partner who has part-time work will leave that work and both partners will drop out of the labour market. Again, that is perverse.
Thirdly, we also know that it makes sense to share out what work there is. We know that it is work that floats people out of poverty. Yet 20 per cent. of all households of working age do not have an adult in work, while some 60 per cent. of such households have two people in work. We have work-rich and work-poor families. The divide is getting worse and the regulations will make it even worse. Why? Because JSA and the deduction of benefit pound for pound means that only the wives of men in full-time work can afford to work part-time without losing benefit. If a man works full-time, his wife can work; otherwise she cannot afford to take work and both are trapped. That too is perverse.
Fourthly, we also know—the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, reminded us of this—that if people cannot obtain waged work, the next best thing is to mimic the labour market with unwaged work and to volunteer. Any 1259 sensible strategy would encourage volunteering and would regard placements with training in an approved voluntary organisation as a positive outcome to the JSA agreement. Everyone knows that the. alternative, the Government's training programmes, have a reputation for being pretty disastrous in many cases. Only three people in every 200 get a job as a result of the Government's Restart programme—that is only 1.5 per cent. By contrast, as the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, told us, the majority of National Trust volunteers obtain full-time work having completed their stint. Let us hope that Regulation 18/3/g bears the interpretation which the noble Lord put on it; nevertheless is its still not the case that volunteers are expected to give up their voluntary work with only 48 hours' notice, although that volunteering could equip them for a proper job, and instead have to accept a dead-end temporary job or lose their benefit?
These regulations are as malign and as perverse as the Act which fathered them. Essentially, they blame the unemployed for their unemployment. The unemployed will be required, on pain of forfeiting their benefit, to make themselves endlessly available to search for jobs that do not exist in a labour market that is overstocked. I repeat that 12 people go after every registered job vacancy today. If the harshness of JSA dragoons one extra person into the labour market so that 13 people are pursuing each vacancy, what have we achieved? What single extra job have we created? Why are we doing this? I ask the Minister to tell me why. Until the Minister can show that the regulations will generate one additional job (other than any extra jobs in social security offices), we on these Benches are utterly opposed to them.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate. In fact, I think that we have had two debates. The majority of noble Lords spoke about the regulations, and their comments clearly indicated that they had read the regulations—or at least part of them. We then had almost another debate, which seemed to be a rerun of the Second Reading of the Jobseekers Act. Without seeking to be unfair to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, I think that that is what we had in the past 17 minutes. I believe that I answered most of the points that she raised while the Bill was proceeding through your Lordships' House and that I did so to the satisfaction of the House, just as my right honourable and honourable friends in another place answered such points to the satisfaction of their House so that the Bill became an Act.
I do not intend to go over all the points of principle that we discussed then. I should rather turn my attention to the questions that I have been asked about the detail of the regulations. I do not know whether I dare say this to the noble Baroness, but many of the details are necessary for the running of any system involving social security, unemployment benefit, income support or whatever name she may decide to give it. Therefore, to say that all the provisions are malign is to overstate the case by about a million miles.
1260 However, I was grateful to the noble Baroness for indicating her welcome for the roll-over of housing benefit and council tax benefit. I believe that she also indicated a welcome for the back-to-work bonus although I suspect that she qualified that welcome when she said that she would wait to see whether it actually worked. I shall take that as being as near a welcome as I am likely to get from the noble Baroness.
My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale was a great deal more forthcoming and I am grateful to him for the positive welcome that he gave to the back-to-work bonus and to a number of other provisions in the package of regulations. My noble friend made a valid point which was echoed by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about a claimant's guide. I am happy to be able to tell them that leaflets for jobseekers will be available at Jobcentres from early March. The first leaflet will give basic guidance to help to alert claimants to the changes that will come about in October. A second leaflet will give more detail and will invite claimants to speak to Jobcentre staff if they would like further guidance. That leaflet will be given to claimants from July onwards. At the same time they will also be given a brief explanation of the changes. The chief adjudication officer's guide, which gives guidance on all the benefit entitlement decisions to be made under JSA, will also be in the "public domain" to use the modern jargon. I mustry to think of a better phrase than that. I assure the noble Earl that the public domain appears to include the Library of your Lordships' House, so I shall keep him to his word that he will not bother me quite so much on the detail if that report is placed in the Library.
Perhaps I may turn to a number of the points that have been raised. I shall try to answer them as quickly as I can. If that means "shorthanding" the question, I hope that the noble Lord who asked that question will appreciate that the answer is directed at him. Perhaps I may start with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who mentioned the Income Support (General) (Jobseeker's Allowance Consequential Amendments) Regulations—not the main regulations—and who asked a question about the over-50s. I do not want to get into a debate about this, but 1 must advise the noble Earl—I thought this when I answered the question—that he makes the assumption that all those people over 50 but below retirement age who have not been in paid employment during the past 10 years are necessarily seeking paid employment. I am afraid that that is not necessarily the case. That group will include people who have retired early, as well as non-working wives and a variety of other categories. I do not think that we can assume that all those people will be looking for work. I give the noble Earl that slight warning in case he wants to use those figures again.
Perhaps I may turn to the regulations about which the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams and Lady Seear, asked a number of questions. Perhaps I should advise the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who intervened in the gap in the speakers' list, that I have had a great deal of experience of listening to "gap" speakers and that that experience has enabled me to listen to the speaker while having an intelligent conversation with the colleague to my right at the same time. I had better be careful in case I meet 1261 one of those speakers, but I think that I can safely say that I have never heard a speaker quite as stimulating as the noble Baroness—and certainly not one who does not use notes. As I recall, many of my lecturers seemed even more hidebound by their notes than I sometimes feel I am.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Seear and Lady Williams, and one or two other noble Lords, mentioned the issue of 48 hours. The point made was that 48 hours was not long enough to allow carers to rearrange their caring responsibilities when they received an offer of employment. As I said during the Bill's passage, people with caring responsibilities who want to participate in the labour market will need to plan in advance the best way of arranging their caring responsibilities if and when they receive a job offer.
We recognise that it would be unreasonable to expect people with caring responsibilities to be available for employment immediately. That is why we have extended the current concession, which is 24 hours, to 48 hours. With advance planning, we believe that 48 hours' notice should be adequate for carers to rearrange their caring responsibilities and be available for employment or an interview.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but he must think about this again. I beg him to do so. He says that carers should make arrangements. That means that they should have someone lined up to do the job, but they do not know when they will obtain a job. One cannot line up one's substitute and expect them to stand by until one has a job. One hopes that they will be off doing something else themselves. One may get a place in a nursery, and that place may be gone by the time the job is offered. One cannot make these arrangements, and I ask the Minister to reconsider this. One may make one's arrangements and not get the job. The arrangements then collapse.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness has missed two points that I made. The first point is that this is a concession. We are making a concession, because for everyone else it is immediate. If they find a job, they are expected to take it the following day, if that is when the employer wants them to start. The chances are that the employer will want them to start on Monday. An interview today would probably lead to a job being started next Monday. It is in fact already a concession. The point I made is that the current concession is 24 hours. If that were a real problem and not an imagined one, dare I suggest that some examples of the problem of the 24 hours might have come forward. We understand the point being made. We have made a concession that extends the immediate not just to 24 hours, as it is at present, but to 48 hours.
I will always look at any cases that suggest that even 48 hours is not enough, but if no examples can be given of the current 24 hours being inadequate, then I find it difficult to be persuaded that I should go further than 48 hours.
1262 On Regulation 7, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, asked me what Regulation 7(3) means. Regulation 7(3) provides that once a person has agreed a pattern of availability, he should not be able to abuse that flexibility by not being available on the days agreed. If the person fails to be available on such a day he will lose benefit for the week. That does not bear upon pattern of availability which a person with a disability might agree under the regulations. He might agree a pattern of availability which may exclude a day. That is fine. If he has already agreed that, he cannot then say, "That day I have already agreed, I shall not be available for this particular job".
On Regulation 11, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me—I believe for his own protection more than anything else—to give him a considered view on what would happen in the case of part-time students having to rearrange their course hours. Part-time students have normally to be available for employment in the same way as other jobseekers. Regulation 11 modifies the availability rule for certain jobseekers—broadly those who have been unemployed for three months or more in the previous six—if they are willing and able to rearrange their course to take a job within the pattern of hours that they have agreed.
If someone cannot, or does not wish to take advantage of Regulation 11, he will have to be available in the normal way. Regulation 11 is therefore a concession. It is not an obligation. There will be no obligation on the teacher, but we hope that the increasing flexibility of education will mean that Regulation 11 will he a helpful provision.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, and other noble Lords asked about volunteers. They come particularly under Regulation 12, although they come elsewhere as well. I was grateful to the noble Lord for saying that we had gone some way. He wants me to try to go a little further. I have already made the point about 48 hours' notice. What I have said is as applicable to this category as it is to carers. He asked me about the training and guidance we should be giving to our staff. All the staff involved in delivering JSA will be given training. That training will ensure that they give consistent advice everywhere in the country. The crucial aspect of the particular issue addressed is to ensure that the regulations are easy and clear to interpret. We have done that with the help of the consultation we have had with the voluntary bodies.
The Employment Service guidance will be based squarely on the regulations. I do not see a need for further consultation, but in line with our commitment to open government, we shall be making the relevant elements of the completed guidance available to the voluntary organisations if they wish to have a copy. The guidance to adjudication officers who make the decisions over benefit entitlement is a matter for the Chief Adjudication Officer who is of course independent of government. That guidance is published and readily available, but I understand that the normal practice of the Central Adjudication Service is not to consult on its guidance to adjudication officers.
1263 I was asked why I should not recognise the value of training in voluntary work. As I think I said during the course of the Bill's passage, we recognise that voluntary work can help unemployed people stay in touch with the labour market and provide an opportunity for them to maintain and develop their skills. Our approach strikes a sensible and workable balance. It recognises the importance and the important role of voluntary work, without losing sight of the fact that all the time the person is doing voluntary work he or she still has as his or her first priority finding paid employment.
Although voluntary work may enhance a jobseeker's employability, we cannot count it as an active step towards finding a job. The regulations are however explicit that an adjudication officer should take into account the value of any voluntary work undertaken in determining whether a jobseeker has met the actively-seeking-work condition. However important the training benefit of voluntary work, the priority for all jobseekers has to remain to take a job if it is offered.
On Regulation 13, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me who was to judge whether a religious belief was sincerely held. Adjudication officers currently make that judgment when determining whether a claimant has good cause for refusing a job. We are not aware of any difficulties. Adjudication officers may ask for any information or evidence that they see fit. Current guidance points them to examine the length of time a person has held to his faith or evidence of that religious observance.
The flexibility in the regulations to determine a pattern of availability through the week will enable people who do not wish to work on Sundays to restrict their availability in that way provided that they retain reasonable prospects of securing work. The regulations provide also for religious considerations to be taken into account in determining good cause for turning down the offer of a job. I hope that that is helpful to the noble Earl.
Regulation 16 was linked to Regulation 9. I could not decide whether to put the matter in Regulation 9 or Regulation 16. It is the same point. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked me about it. I do not believe that there is a contradiction. Regulation 16 allows jobseekers to restrict their availability to their usual rate of pay for a permitted period of up to 13 weeks. Regulation 8 allows them to continue placing restrictions on the rate of pay for which they are available, provided that they retain reasonable prospects of securing employment. Regulation 9 merely sets an overall limit of six months to such restrictions.
In fact Regulations 8 and 9 taken together are more generous to jobseekers than the current rules which allow no restrictions on pay after the permitted period. The permitted period will be determined in accordance with the adjudication officers' guidance and recorded in the jobseeker's agreement. If there is any dispute 1264 about the terms of the jobseeker's agreement, the dispute can be referred to the adjudicator by the jobseeker or the adviser.
As regards Regulation 14, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised a specific point about whether we were treating males and females differently. I believe that "he" means "she" and "she" means "he". In fact, that provision can be read for men or women. I suppose that "sexless" is the word I should use.
As regards Regulation 18, I was asked about the meaning of "violent" and "abusive" and about appearance and behaviour. We have had a great deal of debate about that. Regulation 18(4) deals with claimants who through unreasonable behaviour at a job interview or during the process of making an application to an employer effectively negate their actions to seek work. The words "violent" and "abusive" carry the clear dictionary meaning.
The noble Earl asked me about mens rea. Regulation 18(4) provides that the adjudication officer should not disregard the steps in which the circumstances were due to reasons beyond his control. It is clear from the words of the regulation—words such as "spoilt" and "undermined"—that we are not seeking to tackle accidental mistakes.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, before the Minister completes his references to Regulation 18, perhaps I may press him on a crucial point. May we take it that if the pattern of behaviour of the claimant indicated an effort to try to find a job but that his appearance is one which the unemployment officer does not find totally attractive he will be given the benefit of the doubt on the basis of the consistent pattern of action?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, it is always difficult to be totally theoretical. If someone is seriously looking for a job of course the adjudication officer will take that seriously into account. However, if someone says, "I am seriously looking for a job" but she goes for a job where appearance is important, such as working in the food industry—I made this point at length during debates on the Bill—and says to the employer, "No, I refuse to take off my earrings", I suggest that she would not properly be looking for a job. There are many parts of the food industry in which all employees must remove rings, watches, earrings and so forth because no one would like to find those items in a prepared meal. Producers can be taken to court by a customer who finds such odd objects. Many people in the food industry in particular have become very wary about the new rules and regulations concerning food hygiene. It is difficult for me, standing at the Dispatch Box, to say that in some hypothetical cases it will not matter but in others it will. There will be many cases in which as regards doing the job a person's appearance will not matter but in many other cases appearance will matter. One would not like to see someone with extremely dirty hands and clothes serving one's morning rolls, for example.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen asked a number of questions about disability, a subject in which he is greatly interested. He asked me why disability is not listed in Regulation 28 as regards failure to attend a 1265 Jobcentre. We provide for special postal arrangements for anyone who is not able to travel to a Jobcentre. They may sign on by post and many disabled people will benefit from the provision and will not be required to go to the Jobcentre in person.
Claiming incapacity benefit represents a significantly better buy for the claimant with a mental condition than does a JSA hardship payment because IB is paid at a higher rate. In most cases, an award for IB can be made at once upon receipt of a declaration for incapacity without a need to take appropriate incapacity tests immediately. Even where the claimant has recently been found capable for work and transferred from IB, IB can still be awarded if the condition has deteriorated or the claimant declares a different condition. Given the extensive safety net in IB for mental health conditions, we cannot envisage situations in which a person unable to qualify for IB will be seen as vulnerable for hardship purposes. There is therefore no reason to subject them to the lengthy and detailed JSA hardship procedures.
As regards the 26 weeks, that is continuous. The chronic condition must last or be likely to last for 26 weeks. However, that does not preclude the possibility that the symptoms may fluctuate in their intensity during that period. Thus, someone with arthritis need not necessarily be excluded. The decision as to the chronic nature of the condition will be made by the adjudication officer on the basis of the evidence available and would therefore be subject to appeal.
Dealing with Regulations 28 and 30, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked why people should lose benefit if they failed to attend a Jobcentre because they were ill or looking after a person who was ill. A person who is ill cannot be available for work and therefore is not entitled to JSA. It is right that in Regulation 28 we should not make provision for good cause for not attending. If the jobseeker is temporarily sick or is looking after a sick person he will be treated as available and therefore will be regarded as having good cause for failing to attend the Jobcentre. I hope that the good cause point will help to answer the worries expressed by the noble Baroness.
As regards Part VII, the noble Earl asked who would carry out the up-rating. I do not know whether my answer will add to his confidence, but I can tell him that the up-rating will be done by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security and his ever wise Ministers.
Turning to Regulation 105(13), the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked about the good neighbour provision. When she read out the provision she missed out an important word. It reads:the adjudication officer shall treat the claimant as possessing such earnings (if any) as is reasonable for that employment".In the case of a person carrying out voluntary work of ihe kind she has in mind, the notional earnings provision does not apply provided that the adjudication officer is satisfied that it is reasonable for the service to be carried out free of charge. I believe that I can put the noble Baroness's mind at ease and reassure her that a person merely acting as a good neighbour will not be penalised by the notional earnings rule.
1266 I have spoken for 22 minutes and I believe that I have answered most of the points that were raised. If I have missed any I shall be happy to write to noble Lords. If noble Lords feel that a point has not been properly answered no doubt they will write to me. I am sure that I do not need to encourage them to do that—
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I apologise for interrupting again. I wish to draw his attention to Schedule 7, relating to the disregards for war widows, war disability, war pensions and so forth. He may not wish to reply now, but I wish to urge him to consider the very modest disregard in these crucial areas of pension.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, from the Dispatch Box I have answered the point in a wider sphere on a number of occasions. The disregard for war widows is considerably better than £10 because the £49.50, which I believe is the post-1973 payment, is also disregarded. As regards war disabled pensions, many additional payments which a severely disabled person can receive are also disregarded.
In the general case of disregards, my view and that of the Government is that the pensions which come from public funds are to help people with their day-to-day living expenses, as are all the benefits. It is not justified to allow one group which already receives significantly higher benefits in addition to receive a disregard. That is doing them a double favour. Those in other groups receiving widow's benefit, incapacity benefit and so forth could easily ask, "Why, if they receive a generous disregard, should we not receive it'?". That begins to open up considerable sums of money to the benefits bill.
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, made a more general speech about the regulations. A number of her points related to unemployment and to whether employment was available. We in this country are doing a good deal better than most of our competitors. As I said in my original speech, half the people who become unemployed find work again within three months, while two-thirds of them find work again within six months. A comparison with all the major industrialised countries—certainly all the major European countries—shows that we are up towards the top as regards the number of our people in employment. In fact, our unemployment rate is now better than that of the four "biggies" (if I may call them that); in other words, it is better than our big friends in the European Union—namely, Spain, Italy, France and Germany.
Indeed, not only is our unemployment rate better in general, but our youth unemployment rate is better and our unemployment among women is better. Moreover, in comparison with the EU as a whole, our long-term unemployment rate is better. Therefore, I shall not take any lessons from the noble Baroness who would impose a minimum wage and a social chapter on employment opportunities in this country and, perhaps, push our 8.2 per cent. current unemployment rate up to the levels of France with 11.4 percent. and Spain with 22.6 per cent.
I believe that the regulations and the allowance will help people who are unemployed and who want to work; as, indeed, they all do. It will help them find those jobs. It 1267 is an active employment measure which will encourage and help people and enable them to take up the jobs which are available. I commend the regulations to the House.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.