Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Job Action Teams

6. Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of action teams for jobs. [3581]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown): Action teams for jobs have already helped more than 13,500 people into work in some of the most disadvantaged parts of our country. The two key elements to the teams' success are the outreach work and local flexibility. The teams focus on people's abilities, help people into work whenever that is possible and provide the right support when it is not. I am pleased to confirm that one of the new teams announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier today is starting operations in my hon. Friend's constituency today.

Mr. Ross: We have been waiting for this to happen and working closely with our colleagues in the Employment Service. Following my experience of 18 miserable years under the Tories, one change is very clear. Importantly for people who are seriously disadvantaged and need to find employment, people in the Employment Service can now do the job that they were employed to do: get people into work. The atmosphere in the Dundee and Tayside office is one that is likely to lead to success.

Mr. Brown: My hon. Friend's remarks echo my own experience. When I visit Employment Service premises, I find a willingness to accept the Government's new proactive approach, and indeed to do so with enthusiasm. The new elements are well known. Local flexibility and

15 Oct 2001 : Column 912

the outreach work of the action teams are proving very effective, and I am sure that that will be the case in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): If the local flexibility available in the employment zones is effective, why does the Minister not extend it throughout the country?

Mr. Brown: We are testing a range of service delivery mechanisms, and of course it is our objective to roll out Jobcentre Plus, which contains many of the elements, and draws on the experience, of the ONE pilots and the action zones.

Pensioners (Capital Limits)

7. Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): What progress is being made to reform social security regulations governing capital limits for pensioners. [3582]

The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): We have already taken steps to reform capital limits for pensioners. In addition, the pension credit consultation paper set out our proposals for abolishing both the capital limits and the assumed £1 a week rate of return for every £250 of capital for pensioners.

Ms Prentice: I am grateful for that reply, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have constituents, as we no doubt all do, who, as pensioners, fall between two stools. What guarantee can he give that, when the pension credit is introduced, people who have some savings do not lose out on other benefits?

Mr. McCartney: That is a fair point, and we have two measures in place to respond to it. On top of the guaranteed minimum, we will pay a cash award of about 60p for every £1 of a second pension or savings income, which solves the first problem that my hon. Friend highlighted, concerning individuals with modest savings or small second pensions being disadvantaged because of their thriftiness. Secondly, when more pensioners get more help through the pension credit, that will generally mean more help through housing benefit and/or council tax benefit. We are considering what changes are needed in the design of housing and council tax benefit to ensure that they complement the more generous rules that will apply in pension credit.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): While we are dealing with pensioner benefits, I should like to ask the Minister whether the reports that appeared in the Scottish press at the weekend—to the effect that the Secretary of State has refused on behalf of the United Kingdom Government to continue to pay attendance allowance with respect to Scottish pensioners following the implementation in the Scottish Parliament of the proposals on free personal care for the elderly—are correct. If so, does that not breach the current principle of the universality of benefits throughout the United Kingdom and hence amount to discrimination instigated by the United Kingdom Government against Scottish pensioners under the current benefit system?

Mr. McCartney: I give the hon. Lady an absolute assurance: we are keeping the United Kingdom benefit

15 Oct 2001 : Column 913

system. That is the whole point of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's contribution to the debate. I assure the hon. Lady that the Government, working closely with our colleagues in Scotland, do not intend to disturb the arrangements within the United Kingdom and the national benefits system.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, at the moment, pensioners in this country who have received incapacity benefit move from that benefit to their old-age pension. Some 160,000 people have done so this year. They are paid incapacity benefit until their 60th or 65th birthday. However, is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a week between their birthday and the date on which they receive the benefit of their state pension? Does he agree that that anomaly should be looked at as quickly as possible?

Mr. McCartney: I will write a note to my hon. Friend. That anomaly has always existed, but those involved get the income that they are entitled to, and I shall send my hon. Friend a chart showing how that works.


8. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): What plans he has to introduce benefit payments for carers. [3583]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): The Government already pay benefits to carers. Last autumn, the Government announced a package of measures, worth more than £500 million over three years, to enhance the current social security provision for carers. Two of the measures were implemented in April this year. The invalid care allowance earnings limit was increased from £50 to £72 a week and the carer premium, paid through the income-related benefits, was increased from £14.15 to £24.40.

Three other measures require more substantial legislative changes. They are the extension of claims to ICA to people aged 65 and over; the extension of entitlement to ICA for up to eight weeks after the death of the person being cared for; and a welcome change in the name of the benefit to carers allowance to reflect more closely the purpose of the benefit. We propose to introduce those measures by means of a regulatory reform order as soon as possible. In fact, the consultation on that matter ends today.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I welcome the fact that the Department is consulting on this matter, and the proposed change of name from invalid care allowance to carers allowance will benefit people because it is a simpler name to understand. One of the problems has been that people have not understood what a carer is, and the people concerned found the word "invalid" derogatory. However, I am concerned that the allowances of those who claim benefits for the people who are disabled, or who are being cared for, are affected by the fact that the carer receives the ICA. That has

15 Oct 2001 : Column 914

caused some problems for the people who receive the allowance, and they feel that they are being treated unfairly. Will my hon. Friend comment?

Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend suggests that those who are cared for may lose benefit when ICA is given to the carer. The only circumstance in which I think that that occurs is where the severe disability premium is withdrawn from someone who suddenly acquires a carer when they did not have a carer before. The severe disability premium is paid to enable people to pay for care where they do not have a carer. Therefore, if they suddenly acquire a carer, or a family member comes to care for them, they are no longer eligible for that benefit, but the carer may be eligible for ICA. I do not consider that that is a case of benefit being withdrawn because a carer receives benefit; it is simply another example of the overlapping benefit rules, about which those of us who are becoming familiar with the field know only too well.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): In the Minister's initial reply, she said that the Government intend to end as soon as possible the discrimination against people who become carers for the first time after the age 65. That is very welcome, but does the hon. Lady recall that, following nearly a year of pressure from the Conservative Opposition, one of her predecessors in office gave a pledge to do that

When will that actually happen?

Maria Eagle: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the pressure coming from the Conservative Opposition. Pressure was not needed, because this is something that we have wanted to do. However, the hon. Gentleman is well aware that legislative time in this place is at a premium.

We will implement the change by using a regulatory reform order and, now that the consultation is over, that order will be laid as soon as possible. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the new procedure by which the order goes to the Deregulation Committee, which will have 60 days to consider it. Thereafter, it will be subject to the super-affirmative procedure, which I certainly looking forward to getting my teeth into. I hope that the order will become law shortly thereafter, although of course a similar procedure will be followed in the other place.

Next Section

IndexHome Page