A reminder.

 

http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2010/06/26/letter-to-george-osbourne/

Letter To George Osbourne

Posted on June 26, 2010

 

Chancellor of the Exchequer
11 Downing Street
London
England

24th June 2010

Dear George Osbourne

It has come to my attention that while many of my friends and I were at the funeral of our good friend Paul Reekie (aged 48) it would appear that you were giving a speech in Parliament announcing your intentions to slash the benefits paid to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

I thought I would let you know that Paul took his own life last week. He didn’t leave a note but he laid out two letters on his table. One was notifying him that his housing benefit had been stopped. The other was notifying him that his incapacity benefit had been stopped. Unlike you and your fellow upper class ponces Paul was a creative genius and much loved by all who knew him.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this letter is just so you know the human cost of attacking those on benefits. And also to let you know that if you are ever in Edinburgh, and we have the misfortune to meet, I’d like to kick your fucking cunt in.

Yours sincerely

Kevin Williamson

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And so it begins.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britains-first-benefit-refugees-6358954.html

Sandra Munoz finds it hard to sleep at night. Shortly before Christmas she received a letter from her landlord notifying her that the rent on her two-bedroom flat in Battersea, south London, had gone up. As a single mother of one she receives financial help to put a roof over her head. But rather than languishing on the already backlogged waiting list for social housing, she uses cash payments, known as local housing allowance, to put towards renting in the private sector.

But as part of their series of welfare reform packages, the Government has capped the local housing allowance meaning people such as Ms Munoz and her five-year-old son Eduardo are now being evicted.

“If we have to move out of the area it will be like returning to zero for me,” she says. “We’ll have to start all over again. I’m a single mother and I have a strong support network in Battersea that makes it easier for me to find work. If I move somewhere else I won’t have any of that to fall back on.”

Much of the debate in recent weeks surrounding welfare reform has centred on plans to cap the overall amount of benefit that a family can receive at £26,000. The bill has floated back and forth between the two houses in Parliament with the Government promising to push it through with or without the support of the Lords.

If the total benefit cap comes in, Britain could experience the largest peacetime movement of families since the creation of the post-Second World War new towns.

Proponents of reform say the moves are necessary to save money and encourage families to pursue work, rather than rely on benefits. Critics say many of the benefits out there help keep parents in work and will push Britain towards a segregated future where the outer rings of expensive cities are populated with the poor while the centre of town is colonised by the rich.

But in many ways that exodus is already under way. The Chartered Institute of Housing estimates that as many as 800,000 homes have already become unaffordable for low-income families now that the local housing allowance has been capped. The new caps came in on 1 January and will, depending on when each person’s local housing allowance is assessed, impact households over the next 12 months. Across the country, families are receiving letters saying they must move into cheaper accommodation, wherever that may be.

The new limits currently restrict the maximum amount of housing benefit payable weekly to £250 for a one-bedroom property, £290 for two bedrooms, £340 for three bedrooms and £400 for four bedrooms. The maximum anyone can receive in a year is £20,000.

In many parts of the country the capped allowance is more than enough to find half-decent accommodation. But in London, parts of the South-east, the Home Counties and beyond – where property prices are often extremely high – the caps are making vast swathes of our cities unaffordable to poor families.

Maida Vale, an affluent area of central London is a good example. Like many inner-city London suburbs, social housing is mixed up with Victorian and Edwardian mansion blocks that sell for millions.

Andre Rostant, a hypnotherapist and father of eight, is being evicted because of the housing allowance cap and will likely have to move his entire family outside the city to somewhere in Kent or Essex. “The benefits systems needs reforming and streamlining, I don’t think anyone disagrees with that,” he says. “But I don’t believe it has to be done in such a way where there are such huge displacements across the country.” Much has been made of how the benefit caps will primarily target large families, but he believes the Government has used families such as himself to mask a wider agenda.

“This whole policy has been pushed through on the back of propaganda that it’s only large families and immigrants that will be affected,” he adds. “My family is perfect tabloid fodder but there are single people, small families, people who work up and down the country that will be forced out of their homes.”

The Department of Work and Pensions own estimates admit that 31 per cent of families affected by the various proposed welfare reforms will be families with two children or less. Karen Buck, Labour MP for Regent’s Park and Kensington North, pictured, is also annoyed that much of the debate has been portrayed as only targeting the perennially unemployed. “The idea that welfare reform is about chasing the workshy out of Knightsbridge is a monstrous caricature,” she says. “Between a quarter and a third of recipients of local housing allowances are employed.”

Ms Munoz is a good example. She has lived in Battersea for seven years and her son Eduardo goes to school locally. A trained filmmaker, she freelances when she can while looking after her son. The flat is a former council-owned property, one of millions of former social housing units that were purchased by landlords who now rent them back to tenants reliant on local housing allowances. Although Battersea is an up-and-coming-area of London just across the Thames from Chelsea, there are plenty of have-nots living on less than salubrious estates.

The area’s popularity, combined with a shortage of housing, has allowed landlords to increase their rents annually. In 2008 Ms Munoz’s rent was £250 a month. It is now £350, beyond the maximum £290 a month she now receives through the local housing allowance.

Faced with eviction from a private rented property, she had no choice but to join the social housing waiting list. But there are no guarantees she will be rehoused in Battersea, the closest thing she has to a support network.

“I agree with the idea of a benefits cap, welfare shouldn’t be unlimited,” she says. “But caps need to be brought in that reflect the reality of circumstances and where you live. If you live in the countryside, £290 a week for a two-bedroom place might work well – in London that gets you very little. When I hear politicians say people won’t actually suffer from these changes it makes me realise that they have no clue whatsoever about how people really live.”

That argument appears to have won favour with the Labour party, which after initially supporting a nationwide benefits cap of £26,000 has moved towards supporting one set locally.

Welfare Reform Bill

4th Oct 2011

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Embed/js.ashx?9061 460×322
WRB begins 5.42 pm

 

Committee (1st Day)

5.42 pm

 

Relevant document: 17th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

 

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Ullswater): If there is a division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung, and resume after 10 minutes.

 

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I was hoping that I was not going to have to get up and that the Whips would immediately get up. I raised at the beginning of the Committee the problems that will be faced by Members of the House with severe disabilities getting down to vote in the Division Lobby if there is a Division in the House. I was assured by the Whip that there would be an indication that some arrangements had been made through the usual channels to ensure that that could be dealt with appropriately.

 

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, this looks like two bites at the same cherry, because I believe that this has been dealt with. There will be 10 minutes, and that the Chairman has discretion to extend that time. I understand that there has been a usual-channels agreement that there will not be voting downstairs today, but who knows-things can change. That, I understand, is the agreement for today. However, if ultimately there were to be a Division, there is the 10 minutes, and there is discretion to extend that.

 

This would be an extreme position for today only. A paper is about to be brought to the House, prior to the next meeting of this Committee on Thursday, saying that Members with mobility problems who are in this Room will be able to vote in the Room, and the votes will be taken downstairs. But because that paper has not yet gone to the House, today is different. If there were to be a vote today, and there is real need, that 10 minute period would be extended if Members had difficulty in getting down to vote.

 

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: I am grateful to the Whip for that explanation. I had heard through what I should probably call unusual channels that these discussions were taking place. There are a lot of questions arising from it. Is it just for the consideration of the Welfare Reform Bill in Grand Committee, or will it apply for every Grand Committee taken up here in the future? A number of other questions also arise.

 

I think it is very difficult to have started the Welfare Reform Bill Grand Committee in this totally inadequate Room, dealing with something that is so important when it should have been dealt with much more appropriately on the Floor of the House, and it is going to create tremendous difficulties not only for people with mobility problems but for all of us with regard to 10-minute Divisions and a number of other things. The Whips, particularly the Chief Whip, who propelled us into these arrangements, should have thought rather more carefully about how it is going to be dealt with in practice before making such statements to the House.

 

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, this is not the first time that a Grand Committee has taken place in this Room. I recall meeting here on a Northern Ireland Bill, when a Minister accepted an amendment of mine, as it happens. So it is not the first time that we have met here. It is sufficient to the day. I have spoken about what will happen today. Later we will have a paper which I believe will refer to subsequent sessions in this Room. It will be up to the House to consider whether these arrangements apply to other Bills in this Room-I suppose that that is quite likely-but, as I say, it is sufficient to the day as far as that is concerned. As for the general position of using this Room, do not forget that this is a matter that was taken to the House and the House decided that we would meet in a Grand Committee and not in the Chamber.

 

As it happens, there are 62 places for Members in this Room. I think, unless some more people have crept in, that there are fewer Members in the Room than there were at the end of the Education Committee, which I just witnessed. There is certainly more space for people who need to use wheelchairs and, indeed, more space for members of the public. So as for Grand Committee being held in this Room as opposed to the Moses Room, the general belief among all those who have been consulted and who have seen the position here is that this is a better Room for these meetings. I hope that we can now proceed with the arrangements in this Room.

 

Amendment 1

 

Moved by Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope

 

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, leave out “universal credit” and insert “working age entitlement”

 

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I preface my remarks in the slightly Foulkesian vein of exhibiting some displeasure, not about the logistics of the Committee Room-I understand that there are arguments about that-but because I certainly did not find it easy to prepare amendments, talk to colleagues and pressure groups and get here today to start what is one of the most significant pieces of social security legislation that I h0ave ever come across in this way. Starting at the fag-end of an afternoon is not the best way of making progress. There are colleagues, also, at the Conservative Party conference on bona fide political business that denies them access to the first two sessions on the Bill, and I do not think that that is correct. There are also pressure groups at the party conference at Manchester who would like to be here but cannot because they have commitments, and I have found this very difficult.

 

I was dealing with very helpful duty Clerks trying to table amendments from afar; admittedly, we were all afar because we were on Recess last week, so tabling amendments by Friday was very difficult. I say to my noble friend the Deputy Chief Whip that the usual channels-the blame is not all pointed at the Government and I am not expecting him to respond to this-need to give some consideration to how Members approach their work, particularly with a Recess coming before the start of this Bill. For my money, it would have been much more convenient to start this proceeding on Thursday at the least, if not the week after, which was when it was originally booked to start. We need a little consideration for those of us who are technically engaged in this important legislation. I hope that that will be borne in mind. It is completely out of order so I will say it quickly, but this is a consequence of far too much legislation. The usual channels should get themselves together and get this sorted out, otherwise we will all struggle to devote the appropriate level of time and depth of analysis to what we are being invited to look at.

 

I shall explain what I hope will be for the convenience of the Committee. I have spoken at length to the Government Whips Office from afar, some of the conversations being more successful than others. I got some pretty tart replies in the early stages but at last I got some sense out of them. This is what I propose to do. Colleagues will notice that I have tabled a big group of amendments. Group 3 consists of a whole range of amendments. That was during a phase when I thought: “Golly, if everybody else is having the trouble that I am having, there will be no amendments to Clause 1”. Dilatory tactics are an honourable parliamentary tradition, so in 10 minutes I amended Clause 1 in every way I could. That is what the group beginning with Amendment 3 is all about.

 

However, having calmed down and talked to the Government Whips Office, I had it suggested to me that we begin with a broad-ranging debate on clause stand part. To some, that might appear to be putting the cart before the horse, but in this situation I am convinced that if we have a general discussion-we have some important amendments about the inclusion of council tax which I hope we come to on Thursday-then we can spend what is left of the day inviting colleagues to look at clause stand part and Amendment 1.

 

That would give us the broadest attempt at understanding some of the Second Reading-ish areas, or areas not contained at all in the first 30 clauses. Universal credit, the first clause, opens the gate to Chapters 1 and 2. The first 30 clauses are all about universal credit. The consolation that I can offer colleagues, to whom I apologise, and who have done a lot of research and homework on the group beginning with Amendment 3, is that they are all perfectly admissible by definition in a clause stand part debate because they are all amendments to Clause 1. So it is not for me to encourage anybody to do anything, but I wanted to make clear that I did not want to sell people short and feel they had been short-changed. That is what I think is best for the Committee, and I hope that colleagues find it acceptable.

 

I want to mention two things about what I hope to get out of this Committee stage. Amendments need to be made to the Bill, as I said at Second Reading. This Bill is not perfect. I am particularly concerned about the level of Treasury claw-back in the benefits section. It is absolutely true to say that universal credit will produce new income for low-income households, particularly those going into many jobs and the like. We all understand that, but there will be a reduction of existing levels of benefit, particularly in areas like housing and the universal household cap, which will really, really hurt the households that it affects.

 

My mission in this Committee is to robustly press the Government on the 10-ish or 12-ish issues where that particular concern applies. I understand that this is a long and technical Bill, and I want to make a point about regulations in a moment, but for me, politically, I say this to pressure groups and others outside this place who have been informing and advising us so well: they should concentrate their fire. We need priorities, and we can get changes if we are clear and if this Committee sends a signal to the department. That signal might also get noticed by the Treasury, and it would be a perfect circle if we could make that join and get some improvements by Report in a way that would make people like me more comfortable and think of supporting the changes.

 

I mentioned regulations. Obviously regulations are at the cutting edge of the implementation of the Bill. In passing I want to pay tribute to the Minister of State and the Bill team for making themselves endlessly available and offering us all kilograms of paper, some of which are informative, some of which are just heavy. Whatever you might think about their other approaches to the Bill, the accessibility of the Minister and the Bill team has been exemplary. I hope that that will continue.

 

Maybe the Minister could say something about how he proposes-subject to the availability of the information-to make draft regulations available. Obviously, some of the areas under discussion cannot be dealt with. For example, passported benefits are currently under consultation by the Social Security Advisory Committee. That is perfectly sensible but the committee will not report until later. I am not asking for every draft regulation before we can make sense and see the universal credit come into focus, but I am still struggling with what is quite a fundamental change in the way that we do these kinds of things.

 

What’s in a name? It just occurred to me that “universal credit” does not mean anything very much. It is certainly not universal to any social security advocate or specialist, because “universal” is something that is not means-tested and no one can say that universal credit will not be means-tested. “Universal” is not the right word-and it is not a credit. Credits were all stolen by the former Prime Minister when he was Chancellor. He took them away from the department and created tax credits. It was a successful policy-until it all fell into very difficult administrative difficulties-but the department did not have any say over it. Credits went to the Treasury. Universal credit is coming back to the department, which I am in favour of, but there will be confusion about what a benefit is and what a credit is. I notice that some of the titles in the Bill mention working-age benefits in Part 2.

 

So, the name is very important because it sends a signal about what the benefit is for. I am not seriously suggesting at this stage that we change the name, because I am sure that thousands of pounds have been paid to consultants to craft the artwork around universal credit. But this is a working-age entitlement, which is what I understand it to be, what it should be and what I hope that it is. We are stuck now with “universal credit”, which I think came from dynamic benefits and the Council for Social Justice report that informed a lot of the philosophy behind universal credits. We need to think carefully and clearly. There was a big attempt when tax credits came in to differentiate working tax credits, which were for work, and child tax credits, which were for family support. That did not work. Thinking more clearly about the name in the future would be helpful.

 

I want to make a couple of other quick points under the clause stand part debate. The one thing that does not appear in the first 30 clauses is the word “employer”. For this new administrative system to work, employers have to engage and to contract employment with employees. We are concentrating here on the supply side, all the time trying to get employees into a better situation. I am in favour of that and I understand it, but-I am a board member of the Wise Group in Glasgow, so I know this-you cannot do that successfully unless you are working really hard, extensively and sustainably with employers. If you do not encourage them to take on people who, prima facie, are not ideal employees, they will run a mile. You have to get a close relationship with employers. I know that the Government have done some work at a high level with some of the big employment confederations and on a regional basis, where they were getting people to sign up. That is very welcome, but we need to think about small-scale employment as well. I was going to refer to the omission, although it is not really an omission because it would not really fit the legislation. I just make the point that the elephant in the room for the first 30 clauses is going to be employers, and we must not forget that.

6 pm

My second point concerns a philosophy of participation in tax rates, iron triangles and tapers. In my experience, people do not decide to go into low-paid work on the basis of marginal tax rates. If they go into low-paid work in those circumstances, they surrender the security of a regular payment-not a giro cheque; that is old-fashioned now-which is absolutely guaranteed. For many households, the security of knowing that that money will always arrive on time, and it usually does, far outweighs the uncertainty that they will face even with a universal credit. Therefore, there are other factors that I do not think the philosophy of universal credit has properly captured, and we need to bear that in mind as well.

 

I want to make two other quick points before I finish. First, I said that regulations are important. The Social Security Advisory Committee is going to have to work very hard. I came into this area of public policy because I had the confidence of having access to Social Security Advisory Committee reports. Whether they are working in the field of legislation or secondary legislation or with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee or the Merits Committee in this House, both of which do excellent work, ordinary Members who are perhaps not as interested in a subject as others can have the confidence that, if they read the stuff that has been analysed by the SSAC, as well as the committee’s recommendations, they will have a basis from which to draw an opinion and make points.

 

I know that the Social Security Advisory Committee has other things to do. It is supposed to be an adviser to Ministers and I hope that it will get a chance to do that. However, for me, the priority for the SSAC over the next two years and more will be to give serious consideration to these regulations. Indeed, if it would be helpful to colleagues, I have in mind some amendments that we might table to make sure that the committee’s involvement is absolutely secure.

 

My final point concerns our use of language in conducting the rest of these Committee proceedings. I get very nervous when Ministers make aerated speeches about “welfare”. It is a horrible word. So far as I am concerned, we have a system of social security in this country. Welfare is different and it is now being tagged as a term of opprobrium: people on welfare are somehow feckless and do not pull their weight. The tone of the language that we use is very important in all this. I get even more worried when I find Ministers of the Crown-the Minister of State is not guilty of this-talking about withdrawing benefits for all sorts of reasons. That would be completely unconscionable because it would undermine the confidence of people who are already in difficult circumstances and whom we are trying to help. I think that the Bill will go a long way towards helping them to get some positive support. I hope that it will, but we must not start categorising and stigmatising people.

 

I understand that there will be better take-up with universal credit, and we need to be more understanding about social protection being worth investing in. If people are prepared to take a positive step towards the system, I think that we can make a really big impression. The Minister of State keeps saying that we have a chance to change the culture and I think that that is true. However, we will have less of a chance if we use language that puts people into boxes that are not comfortable for anyone. That would be not only contrary to natural justice but bad policy.

 

I hope that we will have a fairly robust debate on whether the clause should stand part and I beg to move.

 

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, has got us off to a really good start to our considerations on this important Bill. I do not want to dwell on the issues of the Room and where we are meeting. It is a matter for other channels; the usual channels. I think the Government did make a mistake in putting everything in Grand Committee, but having done that I think they have worked quite hard to configure this Room so that hopefully we can have sensible debate on this important measure.

 

We have added our name to the noble Lord’s clause stand part debate, but let me start with his Amendment 1. We have a great deal of sympathy with this, because he is technically correct in saying that this is not a universal credit. It is not a universal benefit; it is a means-tested benefit. It is not universal in the sense that it is a substitute for all other means-tested benefits, either. Council tax sits outside it, as does the partially means-tested child benefit. Other non-means tested benefits rightly sit outside it-DLA and its replacement, the personal independence payment, in particular.

 

As the noble Lord said, though, “What’s in a name?”. But what we are dealing with is the integration of a number of benefits through this system. I so agree with what he said about the use of language and how careful we need to be. One of my questions to the Minister is that, since we read in the newspapers that Secretaries of State are scurrying around Manchester and other places at the moment trying to dream up ever-more draconian conditionality to the welfare benefit system, is there anything in particular that the noble Lord anticipates bringing forward in that respect, as amendments to this Bill?

 

As I said at Second Reading, we always seem to end up in a place where those on benefits are benchmarked-in an adverse way-against a hard-working family who pay their taxes, not recognising that that hard-working family themselves could, next week, be availing themselves of the benefits system, because they have lost their jobs, or there has been an accident, or they have suffered ill health. We need to get away from that. I exonerate the Minister, who I have never heard adopt that language, but frankly some in his party do, pandering to the tabloids, which is, sadly, what this is about.

 

Universal credit is something which we, in principle, support. It covers those in work and those out of work, and therefore potentially removes the fear that entering work will cut away a support system. The prospect of one source of support rather than fragmented sources, from HMRC, DWP, and local councils, is broadly to be welcomed. The clear and significant income disregards and a common taper add to its attractions for improving work incentives. But this is not a panacea.

 

It is still going to be complicated, and there are problems with work incentives, for example for second earners in a couple. There are still very significant unknowns, more detail about which we will seek to elicit in the upcoming weeks, as we scrutinise the clauses in the Bill. Whether the universal credit can lay claim to making all people better off in work depends crucially, of course, on support for childcare costs. We will press for clarity on this matter, as we know others will as well.

 

There are gaps around passported benefits, treatment of the self-employed, and payment of rents. The SSAC, referred to in the presentation by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, published a response to the White Paper on the universal credit, and highlighted issues such as, for example, whether the DWP has modelled the potential impact of second earners moving out of work. Perhaps the Minister can let us know on that issue. It makes reference to MDRs actually increasing for working households paying income tax and national insurance but which do not receive housing benefit or council tax benefit. Perhaps the Minister can also say something about the other complexities that have been pointed out about how the universal credit will deal with situations where, for example, one member of a couple is employed, the other self-employed; or a household comprising persons employed by a number of different employers.

 

Of course, the overriding issue is the deliverability of proposals. If the Telegraph is to be believed, Treasury officials have told Ministers that these reforms are,

 

“in serious danger of arriving late and billions of pounds over budget”.

 

Can the Minister please tell us whether a team of senior Whitehall officials and industry experts has been assigned to investigate the development of the universal credit? Is it true that the DWP rather than the MoD is now at the top of the Treasury’s risk register? I accept it might be the HMRC’s bit that is causing this to happen and not the DWP, but is it true? It seems that we are being asked to rush through a Bill where there are major gaps in how it is intended to work and concerns at the very top of Government about the timing and costs of its delivery.

 

I refer the noble Lord to HMRC’s Improving the Operation of Pay As You Earn: Collecting Real Time Information, the summary of responses that was issued on 30 September. The ability for these systems to deliver that is crucial to the universal credit and in a number of places both employers and software providers have raised real concerns about the challenging timetable for introducing it. In particular, they say in paragraph 3.13 that:

 

“Of those respondents who expressed a view on the proposed timescale for the introduction of RTI, as set out in the consultation document, 75 per cent thought it unachievable. Views from those attending consultation meetings echoed this. The timetable for the introduction of universal credit means there is no flexibility in terms of the ultimate go-live date of RTI. HMRC’s priority is therefore to migrate the largest number of employments into RTI as quickly as possible-a necessity for the introduction of universal credit-whilst putting in place a migration approach which will protect the overall robustness of the system”.

 

We will come back to this issue with subsequent clauses in the Bill but at this juncture, at the start of our deliberations, we really ought to have an update on what is happening on deliverability in light of these particular comments and publications of HMRC.

 

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that this is not a perfect Bill. We will certainly have common cause with those who wish to press on some of the issues, not particularly around universal credit but some of the other issues around housing benefit and benefits caps generally, and under-occupation, which frankly I see as wicked in some respects. I hope that we can have common cause not only in having a rhetoric which we would support but actually translating that into voting to change this measure.

To conclude, I echo what the noble Lord said about thanking the Minister and the Bill team for being available on a very consistent basis so that we can actually get fully to grips with what is a very significant change to the system. I hope that in the next amendment we will open up this issue of what the universal credit should be for. Perhaps I should deal with my comments there rather than in response to this first group of amendments, but we also need to reflect on the process that everything is driven by work incentives and everybody who is on benefits lacks a motivation to work. I do not believe that to be true but I will seek to expand on that when we consider the next amendment. Having said that, if the thrust of the universal credit could be made to work and deal with the issues about which we have concerns, I think that would be a real gain for our country, but we are a long way from that and there are too many unanswered questions. I hope that during our deliberations we can get some further information on at least some of those very vital points.

6.15 pm

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, I do not wish to comment on the overarching universal credit and associated issues, but I commend the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, on raising the issue of language. Language is absolutely essential not only to the dignity and self-worth of people who receive benefits, but also to what our message is to the world about those who survive because of the support they receive from what will be these welfare reforms. I remember writing about three years ago a very important article entitled Sticks and Stones, But Words are Hurting! It was about the issue of language as it pertains to disabled people. I remind noble Lords that disabled people have spent the last 25 years trying to get away from welfare and talk about rights. I would like us to think about this as we go forward.

 

I, too, will be raising the issue of language when we come to personal independence payments. Noble Lords will recall from the Second Reading debate that I have questioned the term, because it does not fit with what we perceive to be the original and, what we thought would be the enduring, intention of disability living allowance. So language is important and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for raising the issue at this point. Welfare versus rights is something that we disabled people talk about all the time.

 

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, like others, I thank the Minister and his Bill team for being so accessible and helpful; I genuinely congratulate them. When we can get the material in hardcover rather than on email, I shall be even more enthusiastic and enduring in singing the Minister’s praises, which I am sure we all want to do.

 

I want to make two points, both of them triggered by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, and my noble friend Lord McKenzie, which I thought were spot on. First, the main thing is to talk about language. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, is exactly right. Until recently, when we introduced a Bill like this it would not have been a welfare reform Bill, it would have been a social security Bill. The gap between social security and welfare is precisely the gap between entitlement and stigma. We forget, when using words like “welfare reform”, what is the structure of who pays and who gains in our welfare state. We all know that a very substantial part of “benefit expenditure” is actually a redistribution of resources through people’s lifetimes, particularly from the working years to retirement. Our pension work falls into that.

 

A second key group of redistribution is what we would call the category benefits. They go to children and to disabled people. There are more methods of redistribution than merely from rich to poor. Instead, they go from those without children to those with children; they go from those who are in good health to those in poor health. That is something that all civilised societies would sign up to. Only the third category of benefits, those which are means tested, reflect a straightforward redistribution from rich to poor. They have been allowed to dominate and cloud the language and to stereotype claimants in ways that portray them as dependent on handouts and the good will of others. We should return instead to the more appropriate, all-inclusive language of social security. Apart from the very lucky few, who are probably white millionaires, male and in very good health indeed, all the rest of us will need recourse to the welfare state, to the social security state. We should all hold that firmly in mind and refuse to engage, wherever it is spoken, in language that seeks to make distinctions between the deserving and the undeserving poor-or, as the Victorians would have said, God’s poor, poor devils and the devil’s poor.

 

The second point I want to make, which follows that, is the point made rightly by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. I strongly support the principles and much of the structure of the Bill, although, like others, I have real concerns about what I regard as the pressure points. In dealing with the Bill, we must not only be concerned with the question of language, but we must encourage the Minister to respond to those adjustments we need to make, particularly where the language of the amendments run by the Minister, or his replies, may suggest what I call the econometric model of the Treasury, which is that people have to be pained or punished into work, because the only stimulus that they will respond to is an economic one.

 

What many of us said in our Second Reading speeches, and what I hope we will all remember, is that when we ask people to move from being on benefit to coming into work, whether they have a disability, whether they have been a lone parent, whether they have struggled for a long time with being chronically unemployed because of the demography and the economic structure of their region, the issue for them is not just about whether they are better off; it is primarily about risk. Unless people understand-and I fear that too often the Treasury does not-the issue of risk and the abatement of risk that needs to go on, we are not going to make a success of the Bill. I think that the Minister understands this perfectly well. I think and I hope that he will accept arguments and that where, in future amendments, we seek to abate risk as well as reward work, he will understand that this is in order to make a philosophy that so many of us sign up to work today.

Lord Wigley: My Lords, I pick up that point, which is very relevant to the debates we will be having regarding the concept of risk. I suppose there is never a right time to introduce legislation such as this, and everybody agrees that legislation and changes are needed, but we are having this legislation at a time of considerable economic uncertainty. There is interplay of social security, as I still prefer to call it, with not just those who are out of work, people who are disabled and all the rest, but those who are in work and who have to face a question of risk if they are going to be mobile in terms of their labour contribution. My fear is that the uncertainty that comes along with the Bill-uncertainty to some extent is inevitable in the structure of a Bill where so much of the detail is to be provided by regulation at a later stage-will dampen down labour mobility at the very time when the economy wants to maximise labour mobility in order to get things moving.

 

A person who is in work who is uncertain as to his or her future and whether, if they move to another job, there is a safety net there, will not take the risk. They will batten down and stick with what they have. Therefore, in our discussion of this legislation it is immensely important that it becomes as transparent as is possible to people outside, within the restrictions of legislation that is so dependent on regulation, so that they understand that there is still a safety net there to provide security in some of the decisions that they have to take for themselves and on behalf of their families.

 

Lord Newton of Braintree: My Lords, since I appear to be one of a relatively small band of Conservatives in the Room, I think one of us ought to say something. I intend to do so briefly. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Kirkwood for recognising that some of us might have been in Manchester. If anyone wants to know why I am not, I think I have been to 40 party conferences, and have done my time.

 

On the main points, I join in the thanks to the Minister and the Bill team who have been great. I support the approach of my noble friend to a debate that comes at the end of a recess, and his suggestion about how we should handle it, which seems to have been tacitly accepted. I endorse his point about the doubtfulness of trying to use withdrawal of social security benefits as a punishment for offences that have nothing to do with social security. I can see that if you have been in benefit fraud then withdrawal of benefit might be appropriate. If your kids do not go to school or even if they burn down warehouses, I am not sure that it is an appropriate punishment to withdraw benefit from the family.

 

I share the concerns about the language in various ways, both on the use of welfare rather than social security and on the universal credit terminology. We probably cannot do anything about the latter, but the fact is that tax credits in their terminology were always a bit of a con, in my humble opinion. This was reflected in the fact that, although they were classified as tax, it was agreed that appeals should continue to go to social security tribunals not to tax tribunals because the tax tribunals knew nothing about it. That really gave the game away. Whether or not we can change the language, the thought is an important one.

Concerning the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, I emphasise the importance of childcare costs in the whole debate about making it practical for families to work. I hope we shall hear something about that.

 

I share concerns, in light of some of the reports in the press, that if the IT does not work then to judge from our experience-for example, with the Child Support Agency-you have a potentially difficult situation on your hands. If there is not complete confidence that the IT systems necessary to make this system work will be delivered in time, then the Government should slow down until they are sure that the IT will work.

 

I have two more points, which will probably be a bit less welcome to my noble friend. I still want to know more about the interaction between the proposals in the Bill and the Legal Aid Bill, which we have yet to come to, and the Localism Bill, all of which have important ingredients, which impact on the same people. I am not clear that there has been joined-up government in considering the combined impact of these proposals.

 

Lastly-and here I get on very dangerous ground-there was a brief reference in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to child benefit. I have already indicated to the Minister in a less formal way that I would like to know how the child benefit changes are going to be dealt with, because I had thought they were going to be in this Bill, and they are not. As I understand it, although I am not sure about this, they are likely to be treated as being in a Finance Bill, which will, of course, severely restrict the ability of this House to say or do anything about them. If that is to be the case, I think we need to know fairly soon.

 

Equally, we need to recognise that the proposals on child benefit-which I notice the press has suggested that Ministers may be reconsidering, but that is no more than speculation-could be subject to change. I hope that they will be for reasons that I do not wish to go into and it would be wrong for me to develop at length. However, I should flag up that the child benefit proposals, in combination with everything else in the Bill, are one of the things that worry me about an overall policy, which I otherwise strongly support.

6.30 pm

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I would like to join my thanks to those made this afternoon, and to speak briefly about the importance of involving employers, about the governance of Jobcentre Plus, and briefly about housing.

 

I thank the Minister for the help of the civil servants. There were a number of very helpful briefing meetings which were most welcome, and I am sure this will continue.

 

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, raised the issue of involving employers, and if I might I will give an example of how effective that can be in terms of reaching the most hard to reach people out there.

 

There is a programme, started by the National Grid utility about 10 years ago, led by their chairman, Sir John Parker, which employs young people from within the criminal justice system, and has reduced the reoffending rates among those young people from 70 per cent to below 7 per cent. National Grid has brought in a number of other partners, such as the engineering firm Skanska and another engineering firm Morrisons, and other businesses have been joining in such as software businesses. Because this has come from businesses they have been able to build trust among other employees, and while it would seem most unlikely that many of these companies would wish to employ people from the criminal justice system, in fact they found that because they have made the effort to recruit these young men-they have given them the training and the promise of employing them if they complete the training-those young men have become loyal employees, and have actually risen quickly up the managerial ladders of these companies. They are filling a gap, because these companies have an aging workforce and they need young people to enter their firms.

 

That is a very important point, and it brings me again to think about whether employers are firmly enough plugged in to the governance of Jobcentre Plus. I hope to table an amendment later in the Bill which will look at how one might perhaps involve more of the stakeholders in the running of Jobcentre Plus. I will not expand too much on this now, but if you look at the example of the Youth Justice Board, which has proved so successful since its introduction about 10 years ago, its chairman is a former chief executive of a local authority, so she can go to chief executives and directors of children’s services in local authorities and explain to them how important it is that they provide employment and find housing for these young people who leave young offender institutions if they are not to reoffend, cost the taxpayer huge sums of money, and ruin their own lives. So I will bring that amendment later.

 

I am certainly very concerned about housing, but I am grateful for the signals from the Government, who listen very carefully to concerns, and I look forward to that debate. I will sit down at this point, but I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for allowing this opportunity for a broader debate at the beginning of the Bill.

 

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I shall comment briefly on a couple of the speeches that have been made. The way the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, introduced the whole of this absolutely explained my frustration and irritation at the short amount of time any of us have been given to do anything at all with this Bill. The noble Lord’s hard look at the use of language was very illustrative too, and that has of course been added to as far as things like social tax and other points that have already been made.

 

Above all, I hope that it will help us, because the atmosphere has not been particularly good regarding the whole of the way in which this has been arrived at between the usual channels. To have a little debate like this, setting the scene, will I hope influence how we all approach what we are going to be dealing with. I will leave it at that, but I have been very impressed, let me put it like that, particularly by what the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood has said, and by the way he set the scene for the opening.

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: I am sorry, my Lords, I wish to make an addition to my comments. In my eagerness to thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, I forgot two very important things. One was that I wanted to thank the Bill team and the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for all their help that they have given to me personally and to people who I have been working with in trying to get my head around this very complex Bill. I am sorry that I forgot my thank-yous.

 

The other is that the Committee will know that I was one of the people who complained bitterly about coming into this Room. I am afraid that I am not happy that we are here. Yes, I love this lovely desk and the fact that my PA is able to help me to drink, but three important things were forgotten. First, no one asked me what it was going to be like for me to participate in this Room. No one came to us, and that is the lack of consultation that we often complain about outside this building to local authorities. In the Disability Discrimination Act, the number one rule is that you must consult, but no one consulted me personally.

 

Secondly, it is a good job that I have an Olympian, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, next to me, because she can reach to push the button on this microphone. There is no way that I can do that. No one asked me, and I do not particularly like having to ask every time that a thought comes into my head and I wish to intervene.

 

Thirdly, the reason why I have that office on the Principal Floor, probably three minutes away from the Chamber, is that at any moment I may have to leave the Chamber and go to my room where I might be assisted to breathe properly. It is dangerous in this Room.

 

I wanted Members to think about that and remember that consulting the person who experiences impairment is the number one rule. I do not want to shame noble Lords, but I have to tell them this because it is important that we in this House remember equality for all. Sorry about that.

 

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am very disturbed to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has just said about lack of consultation. In our dealings with the Whips Office we made it clear that what might be satisfactory to us would have also to be satisfactory to the noble Baroness and her colleagues. We made clear that we could settle on an alternative room only if it had the noble Baroness’s agreement. If that has not happened, it is a real failing. Perhaps we cannot do anything about it now, but I ask the Minister to take that issue back as we had assurances to the contrary.

 

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, I would like to add a brief word. I hope that the Committee does not mind if I do not rise to my feet, as it would take rather a long time. I, too, am disturbed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has said, but I think that the people who have done the work in this Room have done a terrific job and I commend them. They have worked extremely hard to make the Room as comfortable as they possibly could, and they have done a much better job than a lot of us thought they would be able to do. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, was not consulted but they have done a good job in making the Room comfortable.

 

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, it is important that we in this Room remember that we are being observed by the world outside. How we respond to the needs of disabled Members of our House reflects more widely the respect that we show to disabled people in our society. Getting this Committee right is important, not just for noble Lords who wish to participate but for building confidence among communities outside this House that they are being taken seriously and that their concerns have been raised and heard within this House too. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of that. I know that there have been concerns about the way that we are conducting this Committee, and we are doing that in public, rightly so.

 

The Earl of Listowel: I hope that the Committee will forgive me; I omitted to declare my interest when I spoke about the work of National Grid Transco. I have received hospitality from them on a number of occasions and I have declared that.

 

Baroness Grey-Thompson: I was asked yesterday morning to come into this room and check for accessibility. I came in at 2.15 pm to check that there was enough room and we are fortunate that a huge amount of work had gone on to make sure that there was enough space for wheelchair users who might come to speak or to deal with various colleagues’ needs. On the point about voting, my personal view is that it is incredibly important that if I take part in a vote, I actually walk, or push, through the Lobby. As much as being able to see my name in a list, it is important to me that Members of your Lordships’ House see which way I push. If there is a Division-I hope not today-I will be going to vote and that is something important that we should all have the opportunity to do.

 

I know that not all my fellow Peers feel as strongly about walking down one of the Lobbies as I do, but it is very important in terms of democracy.

 

Baroness O’Loan: I have a brief point in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. As we later consider the disability living allowance and the PIP which will replace it, we need to bear in mind that our understanding of the consequences of living with disability is limited. We demonstrate that by the way in which we conduct our business. People will judge the extent of our understanding in the discussion we have about social security arrangements for them. It is a hugely important issue.

 

Baroness Meacher: I support that strongly. If one of our Members is actually at risk, maybe the usual channels need to reconsider whether this Committee can be held in this Room. I do not believe that any work can be done by this House if a Member is at risk and feels that they may not be able to breathe. I urge the usual channels to revisit that issue.

 

Could I ask the Minister three quick questions. One is strongly in support of the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that risk is more important than the idea of getting an additional 24p in the pound-or whatever it is-for every pound one might earn in employment. I know the Minister is as conscious as I am about the special needs of people with mental health problems in relation to risk.

 

This is a group who may desperately want to work, but who are locked out of employment because of the understandable concerns of employers about taking them on. I know this is much in the Minister’s mind. Has a real assessment been made about the impact of this Bill, geared to economic incentives, on that large group of claimants, particularly on ESA, in terms of the risk that they face? I have been talking about this Bill to a lot of service users, patients, in east London and they all refer to being terrified. Understandably, this might not have been fully taken on board by the drafters of the Bill, the Bill team and all the other people involved. Is the Minister satisfied that the depth of that issue and its importance to a very large group, something like a third or more of claimants in the employment service, on ESA, has been taken on board? That is the first question.

The second one concerns the point raised by the noble Lord behind me about the IT system. We all know about the NHS IT system: it was all going to be wonderful and we were looking forward to it. It was about integrating databases, computers and suchlike. It failed and failed and failed and cost billions. Does the Minister have an estimate of the timeframe for the integration of the Inland Revenue and DWP computer systems? I think that that is the project: obviously he will correct me if I am wrong. Also, what confidence does he have in that estimated timeframe and what is the evidence for his confidence if he has it?

 

My third point concerns DWP staff training. Can the Minister, again at this early stage of the Bill, give some assurance to the Committee about the level of funding going into the training of DWP and other relevant staff to ensure that they can understand the complex issues around capacity to get into employment? I have mentioned this story before. In conversation with a Jobcentre Plus manager, I asked how they dealt with people with mental health problems. The answer was: “We don’t”. I asked what happened and the answer was: “They become homeless and go back into hospital”. As somebody responsible for a mental health trust, I would be interested to know whether the Minister is satisfied that in future DWP staff and others will be adequately trained. Our trust and others will not be able to finance large numbers of people coming into hospital who at the moment do not do so.

6.45 pm

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: I should like to intervene quickly to put noble Lords’ minds at rest. On a point of information, I am not putting myself at great risk, so noble Lords should feel quite relaxed. I promise that I will not ask them to perform CPR. I will just make the point that it is a risk I am happy to take, and my responsibility. I take it every time I attend a meeting that is quite far away from my room. My issue was that I was never asked personally: that is all. It is a simple point.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen): My Lords, before we continue, perhaps I may explain something to noble Lords that may help our sound broadcaster. The Room has been set up so that nobody needs to touch anything. Noble Lords do not have to switch anything on or off. The Room has been set up so that we can all speak without anybody having to touch anything. I offer that explanation to noble Lords.

 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, before I deal with the amendment, the stand part debate and the clause, I have to take on board what the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, said, and her expression of concern. I do not have an answer for her now, but I will go back and get one and make sure that her concerns are addressed in the most thorough way possible. If things have not gone appropriately, I apologise unreservedly.

 

Before I turn to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, let me talk a bit about the universal credit. Clause 1 establishes universal credit as a new benefit under the provisions of Part 1 of the Bill. This is a modern, simplified benefit, available both to people who are in work and those who are out of work, instead of claiming a number of benefits and tax credits from different sources, as happens currently.

 

As the Committee will know, the Government are determined to reform the welfare system to make it fairer and more affordable while addressing the problems of poverty and dependency on welfare. Universal credit is at the heart of this strategy. I welcome the support from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for the principle of universal credit. While I am on that point, a number of noble Lords have thanked my Bill team for their accessibility and requested that that continue and I can again give an assurance that we will lean over backwards to continue that accessible approach. The reason is entirely one of self-interest, and when I say self-interest, I mean the interest of the governance of this country. It is vital that we have a proper debate on this very important Bill. A number of noble Lords have pointed out that this is a really important, transformative Bill and it is important that we address the issues properly and with full knowledge. That is why we have this very accessible approach.

 

We are currently updating the impact assessment-we have been working with a rather out-of-date one-and I am hopeful that we will be publishing that soon.

 

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Could the noble Lord help us a little more? Some of us, in our amendments, are relying quite heavily on the impact assessment figures and we would not want to mislead the Committee by using figures that will be replaced quite quickly.

 

Lord Freud: Yes, I think that they will be replaced quite quickly. I cannot give the actual date or time now, but I think I am safe to say, “Soon”.

 

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: A week? A month?

 

Lord Freud: “Soon” is closer to a week than a month.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Thank you.

 

Lord Freud: We will get a code. But even the current impact assessment shows the transformative effect of universal credit when it is fully implemented. The combined impact of take-up and entitlements may lift hundreds of thousands of individuals out of poverty, including as many as 350,000 children. The vast majority of gains from universal credit will go straight to the poorest households.

 

I shall pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on risk. By combining, effectively, out-of-work benefits and in-work tax credits, we effectively de-risk moving from one category to the other and that is a very powerful incentive for the poorest people to take a risk. One other aspect of it which I have been very conscious of as we develop the whole approach is that it is the best way of dealing with fluctuating conditions. You can move, take a risk and work for some months without being terrified that, if it does not work out, you have lost your benefit support structure, because you are just moving up and down the taper. So, from the aspect of risk, universal credit has huge advantages and it is one of the main drivers of our expectation to see many fewer workless households.

 

Baroness Meacher: I agree with the Minister that that is one of the great things about the universal credit-on the assumption, and this is the second point that I made, that the systems are properly integrated. As I understand it, this wonderful moving in and out of work, with your benefit going up and down as your earnings do the opposite, depends on the integration of those computer systems. My concern is that if the Bill goes through and the universal credit comes in but the IT systems are not ready, then I would have thought that the whole thing would be undermined. I would be interested to know the Minister’s response.

 

Lord Freud: I thank the noble Baroness. I will leave that till a little later; a number of noble Lords have raised concerns about the IT infrastructure.

 

To return to the structure of the universal credit itself, the single taper on earnings means that claimants will clearly see how the universal credit award decreases as income from earnings rises, making work financially rewarding for everyone. Alongside the work programme, universal credit will ensure that claimants have a route out of poverty through work rather than a lifetime on benefits-or on social security, depending on language; I will touch on language in a minute as well. I hope, and I hear from noble Lords in terms of principle, that there is general support for this approach.

 

The participation tax rate assesses the proportion of earnings that are effectively lost through tax and benefits on starting work. The dynamic effect of universal credit means that over 1 million fewer households will face participation tax rates over 70 per cent.

 

We will also tackle the issue of high marginal deduction rates, which undermine the incentive to increase earnings or hours once someone is working. Under the current welfare system, people in work can gain as little as a 4p increase in their take-home pay for every £1 increase in earnings, and people on out-of-work benefits could see a pound-for-pound reduction on their benefit.

 

On the questions raised in this area by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, regarding the numbers of people who face higher and lower marginal deduction rates, the impact assessment confirmed that 2.1 million individuals will have higher rates under universal credit but that the median increase will be comparatively small, at about 4 percentage points, and many of those will be households with above-average income for universal credit claimants, moving from a marginal deduction rate of 73 per cent to 76.2 per cent. Some 330,000 second earners will face higher rates, compared with 140,000 with reduced rates. The median increase is higher for this group, reflecting the fact that second earners already tend to have lower marginal deduction rates. As the Committee will know, the impact assessment also addressed the issue that some second earners might move out of work, but we are still expecting the net effect to be a large reduction in those who are workless.

 

On my noble friend Lord Newton’s concern about child benefit and the debate around that, the best that I can do today is to commit to taking that up with Treasury colleagues and find out what the process is. Again, I will revert.

 

I return to the universal credit. The way that it will tackle the problem of very high marginal deduction and participation rates is to have a consistent taper of 65 per cent. Overall, this produces substantial improvement in those marginal deduction rates. About 700,000 people who currently have rates above 80 per cent will benefit from it. I turn to IT.

7 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: On the impact of the taper rates, does the Minister agree that, if you have council tax benefit or its replacement outside the system, you simply cannot be sure what the effect of the withdrawal and taper rates will be? Can you include that benefit?

 

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I reinforce my noble friend’s point. As every council tax taper will differ from district to district, and there are some 300 to 400 of them, it will be impossible for anyone to predict who gets what.

 

Lord Freud: We will have a debate on this matter rather soon, but maybe not today. The only way I can respond is to point out that, depending on how we adjust the system to have what is effectively a tax rebate system outside the universal credit, we could see different effects. Rather than prejudging this, I will reserve that information for another day. We will have plenty of time to deal with it.

 

I have been asked about IT by a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Newton, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, among a few others who have some concerns. We have gone through a huge process of external assessment by the Major Projects Authority,

which is a continuous process in stages. The most recent independent review stated a high level of confidence that the expert teams that we have assembled will see us deliver the programme. The review team said that we had made an impressively strong start.

 

The programme is on time and on budget. It is being developed in a radically new way to government programmes. The difference is that in a traditional government programme the whole system is built, trialled for a few months and then introduced. This system is being built in layers so that we can trial each layer as it develops and test it with customer insight. That process is happening. One of the things that we can do today is take some particular claimant types through the system. I am planning a demonstration for noble Lords later this month to take them through this process, because when they start to see the different elements coming together there will be a much better basis for understanding.

 

In my confidence, I can quote only these external sources; my own views are perhaps less relevant. The external sources are holding the programme up as an exemplar of how the Government should develop IT. We will be getting these external reviews regularly at each of the difference gateways, so it will be monitored externally very carefully. I have no knowledge of where this is on anyone’s risk register, so I cannot answer that particular question put by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. Obviously, though, any big programme is going to be looked at to ensure that it is being done to time and to budget. That is just governance.

 

I think there is a lot of confusion in the external world between what is an appropriate level of governance and external monitoring of an important, big programme, and the fact that there are always risks involved in developing it. I responded to the article in the Telegraph, saying that this was a programme on time and on budget. Basically, the article was misleading and I stand by that letter.

 

Baroness Meacher: I wanted to turn the question around another way. The Minister rightly says that there are always risks in these things. If, in fact, the IT system is not ready when the plan is for this Bill to be implemented, will the Minister give an assurance that there will then be a delay in the implementation of the Bill until the IT system is ready? If not, I go back to my other point about the risks, fears and so on. If there is a lot of change and reassessment, which we know are going on anyway, it would be helpful to have an assurance that, as he says, they would then have a system that would deal with a lot of the problems of the current system. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister could give us that assurance.

 

Lord Freud: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for that. I am at a slight loss at how to respond, in case it is an “Am I beating my wife?” question. I am getting some help from the Box. The universal credit will be built on a computer system, or rather a pair of medium-sized computer systems. We have a careful introduction process. One of the options we had, if I can explain it in layman’s terms, was that we could have picked everyone up electronically out of current systems, moved them over and dropped them into the universal credit, with effectively a Big Bang approach-go for it.

 

That would have been the conceptual framework in which the noble Baroness asked her question. We are not doing that. We are moving people into the system over an extended period. We will start with the flow in October 2013, and then as we get the system working we will have some managed migrations over a four-year period. It is not the Big Bang approach-where you wait for the thing to go, and then you throw everyone in-that one might envisage. It is a much more considered, steady, incremental approach. Indeed, we are developing the actual IT by using elements and units of what we have much more incrementally than it might seem from outside. That is one of the things that I will try to show noble Lords when we have the presentation; indeed, it will be a wider presentation for all parliamentarians. I see that a few in the Room may be very interested.

 

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I am trying to visualise in my mind what you are doing with your groups. What worries me is the older group, who may not be quite as alert to the modern methods of IT and may find it not as easy to move around and get the right information via an IT system. It would be helpful if you could answer that point, or take it into account when setting up your demonstration.

 

Lord Freud: Yes. Picking up on that point from the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, one of the most complicated areas in practice is not the development of the IT system; it is the interface between the user and that system. We must develop, and are developing, a sophisticated set of gateways. There are a lot of issues to get right surrounding identity assurance, ease of use-which we are doing a lot of work on-and where you go to get access when you do not have broadband in your home or do not necessarily understand how to use programs. Getting that help right and balanced is something that we are spending a lot of time and energy on. I accept the noble Baroness’s point: that is one of the key issues to get right.

 

Lord McKenzie of Luton: The noble Lord is clearly impressively knowledgeable around all this. He said that the systems were being built in layers, and that he would be able to demonstrate to us that some of them are actually working now. Are they working on the basis of collecting real-time information for the individuals represented in those layers?

 

Lord Freud: No. I shall explain to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, exactly how this works. We are building a system so that certain types of people can apply and run their universal credit. That is not a small trial; that is the mainframe system equivalent. The first type is a simple claim; I think he is personified as “Tom”-I forget his surname. We have pulled in a lot of Toms and run a customer insight with them to run through how they would interrelate with the system. The next stage has been to work out how we have a joint claim.

Yasmin and Liam are the two joint applicants. They are both committing as a joint claim because it is a household claim.

 

Noble Lords who are interested in this area-I suspect that quite a few are-will find this fascinating as we run through it. I am waving my hands to try to give the Committee an image, but I cannot do it. I much prefer to have a screen to run through things on.

 

I want to leave noble Lords with a reassurance that this is happening. The programme is going to time, and it is going to budget.

7.15 pm

Lord Newton of Braintree: I wonder if I could intervene from a sedentary position. I think all that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was seeking was a simple assurance: if at some stage it becomes clear that the next bit will not work, will Ministers change the timetable? That is not a “beating your wife” question. It is simple and straightforward.

 

Lord Freud: It is never that black and white. When you build a system in stages, the issue is how partial or complete the system is. There is a decision to be taken around the level of partiality. If there were to be a delay-and as I say, there is not-clearly, one would have to be realistic. If there were some other problem and it did not work at all, again one would have to be realistic.

 

Lord Newton of Braintree: I will accept a commitment to be realistic.

 

Lord Freud: I am most grateful to my noble friend. I shall continue dealing with the questions. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood was interested in the interrelationship with the Social Security Advisory Committee, which, as he pointed out, has a statutory duty to examine all social security regulations. Any regulations for universal credit that rely on existing legislation-for example, those relating to claims, and awards and payments to joint claimants-will therefore be subject to full SSAC examination. I accept that there are large parts of the Bill that introduce new regulation-making powers. In these areas, the committee may not have its former role, but I assure noble Lords that we will continue to talk to the committee and use the arrangements currently in place allowing us to provide it with information on new powers and the regulations made, within six months of the commencement of those powers.

 

On the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, on how the system will cope with, for instance, a self-employed and an employed member of a household, any earnings received through the PAYE system will automatically be taken into account even though they may be from one or more PAYE sources. We will clearly need to take assessment of non-PAYE earnings through some other tool, and we are looking at developing a self-reporting tool to provide us with earnings information.

 

A number of noble Lords raised the issue of language, including my noble friends Lord Kirkwood and Lord Newton and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollis and Lady Campbell. I have to agree that language is extremely important. There are quite a few issues around it; some involve European legislation on exportability, so sometimes there are some constrictions. I see universal credit as a support for those who need it, whether they are unemployed, disabled, a lone parent or working for a relatively low income. We want universal credit to support as many people into work as possible.

 

I will come to the language issue around the name “universal credit”. One of the things about the word “credit” is that it carries with it a sense of entitlement, and I know that a lot of noble Lords are concerned about that. There is some language around that, and that is why the term was chosen in the case of tax credits. There is a sense in which it is a credit; there is an entitlement there.

 

I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about allowances for training of staff-clearly, one does not have a transformative project such as this without having properly trained staff. The total budget that has been set aside to fund the transition, including administration costs, is £2 billion. Training is a crucial element of that.

 

Amendment 1, raised by my noble friend Lord Kirkwood, would rename universal credit. His title, “working age entitlement”, is a straw man, as he said. It is fair to ask where “universal credit” comes from. It has its origins in the financial dynamics paper, although the noble Lord will know if he remembers that paper well that there were two different credits. In this case, they were boiled down into a single credit for all people on working-age, means-tested benefit. That is where its universality resides: it captures everyone in that category.

 

One of the attractions of having one word to capture all working-age benefits is that we have two systems today, an out-of-work benefit system and an in-work tax credit system, and the differentiation between them has made it harder to move from one to the other. That is where the discrimination and the differentiation are; that is where the apartheid-if one wants to use an ugly word-lies. That is the gap that we are trying to remove. There is not a real gap, as noble Lords have pointed out today, between those who are unfortunate enough to be out of work, or those who have a disability or fluctuating condition that means that they cannot reliably go into work, and those in work. There is no hard line between the two, nor do we want there to be. We want people to be able to flow across easily. It is because we have two different systems that we have made it so much harder. That is what we are doing with the universal credit, and that is what lies behind our reason for calling it that. As the noble Lord said, what’s in a name? It may seem rather a wide name-“universal”-but it reflects the fact that a whole range of needs will now be met through a single payment rather than by a piecemeal and confusing jumble of benefits and credits. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

 

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I have two questions arising from what the Minister has said. The first is on the current impact assessment-we look forward to the new one soon-of the number of children who will be helped. I think that the figure was 350,000. Was that figure reached before other changes to the benefits system were taken into account, given that the IFS has estimated that child poverty will rise in 2013? The second question, briefly, is on IT. I was involved with some of the IT systems for automatic enrolment with NEST. I should like the comfort of knowing that these two will also be well connected.

 

Lord Newton of Braintree: Before the Minister responds to that, may I chip in? The one thing that has not been touched on-I noticed that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was a bit agitated about this as well-is childcare costs. There was no comment on this.

 

Lord Freud: The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked two questions. The child poverty impact that I cited from the impact assessment refers to the universal credit alone. It does not incorporate the other changes that there may be. On IT, we are working very hard to make these systems work together smoothly. The third issue, raised by my noble friend Lord Newton, was on childcare. I have had a supportive word from the Box, which I shall seize and use: I hope to be able to inform him and other noble Lords soon about our childcare arrangements.

 

Lord Newton of Braintree: What does “soon” mean?

 

Lord Freud: I think we have developed a code for “soon”, which I need not go on about again.

 

Lord Newton of Braintree: On this occasion I will accept not just realism but good will.

 

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I am grateful to all colleagues who have taken part in this debate. I hope it has fulfilled its purpose of scoping out exactly where the Committee is going. I understand that colleagues want to finish at 7.30 pm. I cannot but welcome my mentor, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who was Secretary of State for Health and Social Security under Margaret Thatcher and succeeded in spite of all these things. It is a particular delight. I should like the Minister of State to pay particular attention to what the noble Lord says because he knows what he is talking about. I know this because I have followed his career for many years.

 

We obviously need a code for this. An Enigma machine might be purchased so that we can understand what “soon” really means, and issues of that kind. That will help the Committee. I certainly want to sign up for the demonstration of Yasmin and Liam when it comes. Apart from anything else, I have a drink riding on this. If this system works, I owe the Minister of State at least a double whisky or whatever his poison is. I want to be deeply involved in all these processes related to IT.

 

I have two other very quick points. It is true to say, and reassuring to hear, that SSAC has that role, and that the Minister clearly understands its importance in this process. He will know that it has never had the same formal process of review over tax credits that it had over the benefits system. We need to be careful about that. If the Government are not careful and start hiding behind that technicality, it may be more difficult for SSAC to look at the successor benefits to tax credits and working tax credit, which would be a shame. I would not mind some reassurance on that.

Just for amusement, I discovered that the word “regulations” appears 380 times in the Bill.

 

Lord Freud: My noble friend asked for some reassurance in the area of tax credits. Under the universal credit, it will effectively become part of the responsibility of the DWP and therefore become overviewable and reviewable by SAC. Whereas I might have been a little coy in giving some other assurances today, I can absolutely uncoy about this one.

 

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: There is no need for code for “coy”. In the last minute available to me, the one thing I want to say is that if we are getting this level of co-operation from the Bill team, I am willing to do more work. We do not normally do it this way. With new, technical social security Bills, the default position is to table amendments to clarify and bring the thing into focus. Speaking for myself-I speak for nobody else-I am willing to do more of that work with the Bill team if they are available. As the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said, we often share rhetoric but we should, as a Committee, try to drill into the dozen issues that are the real hot spots. I think that is what the pressure groups are hoping for with this Bill. I am certainly up for that. That is a much better way to proceed than splattering amendments, as I did with Clause 1 and for which I apologise; I will not do that again. We will take the length of time that we need to take, but if we get the hot spots ironed out sensibly it will be to the benefit of not just the Committee but the whole House and the implementation of this policy, which it is so important that we get right.

Again, I am grateful to colleagues who have taken part and to the Minister for being so generous in responding. We are now a minute late. I now withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, perhaps this might be an appropriate moment for the Committee to adjourn until 2 pm on Thursday.

 

Committee adjourned at 7.31 pm.

16th June 2011 Welfare Reform Bill 1st reading House of Lords

Welfare Reform Bill

First Reading

12.02 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-public-bill-office/2010-11/compared-bills/Welfare-Reform-bill-110525.pdf

The ConDems and those they are Condeming

“No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin”

– Nye Bevan

Those in control of the DWP seem set all out to begin the destruction of the Welfare system in the UK. Many say the Tories have intended this from it’s inception way back in the 1940s. Since then great leaps and bounds have ensured those most in need and their carers have the basics to ensure they are reasonably comfortable and no longer end up in institutions as they would have many years ago.

Condem rhetoric states they are trying to make the system fairer to those in need and the taxpayer whos contributions in National Insurance and tax “Pay for it”. Nice way to stir up hatred against Welfare Claimants for your own mismanagement of public finds there Gubmnt.

WAll the while of course making quite savage cuts because of a massive financial deficit. Can never quite find the information that totals up the billions the Government bailed out banks with over the past few years.  Or what happened to that £75Bn The Bank of England injected in October 2011 for “Quantative Easing” what ever the fuck that REALLY means.

However we’ve heard all that shit before.

Thing is, tomorrow the 1st of Feb 2012, the bill hits the last stage before it bevcomes a reality for everyone who claims welfare of one sort or another. From the pensioner with the audacity to have a spare room….. to the Cancer patient who cannot assure the DWP that they will possibly die in their next 6 months.

Having lived a few times through brutal Tory rule I leave this page with another Aneurin Bevan quote.

“Not even the apparently enlightened principle of the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ can excuse indifference to individual suffering. There is no test for progress other than its impact on the individual”

 

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