HC Deb 07 July 2003 vol 408 cc745-6
10. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

What representations he has received in the past month on the arrangements under which jobseeker's allowance payments can be suspended. [123530]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Desmond Browne)

The Department receives regular representations from members of the public and Members of the House on individual cases where jobseeker's allowance has been suspended or, more often, sanctioned. Those cases are dealt with on an individual basis, having regard to the circumstances of each case.

Mr. Barnes

I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. He did a fine job in the Northern Ireland Office and I sure that that work will continue in his present post. Is he aware that the labour market statistics on adjudication officers' decisions on jobseeker's allowance for 2002 show that there were 670,000 cases, in 49 per cent. of which benefits were reduced for different ranges and varying periods? Is that not an excessive number of cases, extremely time-consuming and of concern to everybody involved in the procedures? Would it not be better to tackle unemployment by creating fresh job opportunities, rather than pressurising those in vulnerable circumstances to ensure that they take every last opportunity available?

Mr. Browne

I am aware of particular statistics, as my hon. Friend knows, having brought them to my attention a short time after I became a Minister in the Department. I thank him for his kind remarks. May I reciprocate by reminding the House of his enviable reputation, particularly on campaigning for the unemployed and those who live in poverty? Consequently, I am sure that he is pleased about another statistic—a 46 per cent. reduction in the unemployment claimant count in his constituency since this Government came to power. The fact is that that did not happen on its own. It happened partly because of the target regime of jobcentres and Jobcentre Plus. There are no staff targets about increasing the number of people who are sanctioned or suspended. The only targets that those who work in Jobcentre Plus have in this area are those based on success in finding work. I am sure that he shares that aim.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on reaching his new position. He and his Department are aware of the fact that Brandon's turkey factory in Dalton industrial estate in Vale of York has closed, with the loss of some 300 jobs. A large proportion of those jobs were held by agency workers. In what circumstances are those people eligible for jobseeker's allowance? Can he try to ensure that Jobcentre Plus is engaged at an earlier stage, before receivership is announced in a factory?

Mr. Browne

As I pointed out, Jobcentre Plus and jobcentres deal with individuals as individuals. Of course, there are benefits and support that all workers who are made redundant and lose their jobs, whether they were held with agencies or directly with the employer, can, do and have received from Jobcentre Plus. Indeed, a fine example is what happened at MG Rover, which I recently visited with Jobcentre Plus staff from Birmingham. There are no more experienced people for helping just the sort of constituents to whom the hon. Lady refers. If I can be of any direct assistance to those constituents, I shall be happy to oblige.