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Pensioners' Benefits

24. Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proportion of GDP has been spent on pensioners' benefits on average since 1997. [3599]

Mr. McCartney: Over the period there has been sustained economic growth and our spending on pensioners, now some 5.5 per cent. of GDP, has ensured that all pensioners have shared fully in the rising wealth of the nation.

The proportions for each year since 1996–97 are provided in the table:



1. The information in the table compares social security expenditure in Great Britain with the most recent estimate of Gross Domestic Product issued by National Statistics (24 September 2001).

2. Benefits included are: Retirement Pension (Basic and Additional), Income Support/Minimum Income Guarantee, Winter Fuel Payment, Concessionary TV licence, Non-contributory Retirement Pension, Christmas Bonus, and Housing/Council Tax Benefit and Social Fund paid to people aged 60 or over.

Winter Fuel Payment

25. Mr. Randall: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many eligible men have not received backdated Winter Fuel Payments in respect of previous years. [3600]

Mr. McCartney: To date we have received and paid over 1 million retrospective Winter Fuel Payment claims for the first three years of the scheme: 1997–98; 1998–99 and 1999–2000. A possible 1.9 million people, the large majority of whom are men, could be eligible for a backdated payment in respect of these years. However, there are no time limits on claiming payments for these winters and we continue to receive and pay claims.

From April 2000 an information campaign ran to ensure that existing and potential customers knew about changes to the scheme and what, if anything, they needed to do to get a payment. It is up to the individual to choose whether to claim payments for past winters. There is no time limit on claiming payments for previous years of the scheme. This year, the Winter Fuel Payment information campaign began in June and will continue throughout the year.

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for what reason he has brought forward the qualifying week for the 2001 Winter Fuel Payment. [7581]

Mr. McCartney: From the winter of 1999–2000, the qualifying week was fixed at the week beginning with the third Monday in September. The qualifying week for that winter was 20 to 26 September 1999. The qualifying week

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for last winter, 2000–01, was 18 to 24 September, and for this winter it was 17 to 23 September. Next winter, 2002–03, the qualifying week will be 16 to 22 September.


27. Mr. Ronnie Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to enable the hardest-to-help jobless people find work. [3602]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: We have introduced a wide range of New Deals which help disadvantaged groups to move from welfare into work. These have helped well over half a million people move into work, and given thousands more the skills and confidence to compete more effectively in the labour market.

We are further improving the services available for the hardest to help, such as a £40 million package of help for unemployed drug mis-users, and a further package for a wider group including ex-offenders and the homeless.

We have also introduced Action Teams for Jobs and Employment Zones which are targeting the most deprived areas. Between them they have already helped over 26,000 people into jobs. We are increasing the number of Action Teams from 40 to 53 this month, and to 63 in January 2002. We have also extended Employment Zones until March 2003.

28. Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to help people in deprived areas in West Yorkshire find work. [3603]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Our welfare to work initiatives have helped people into work in all parts of the country. Our New Deals have been a success, playing an important part in reducing claimant unemployment in West Yorkshire by almost 40 per cent. since 1997.

We are building on that success, and with the introduction of Jobcentre Plus we will offer a flexible, individual service for every person of working age on benefit.

Pensioners (Long-term Care)

29. Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his policy is on the incomes of pensioners while they are in long-term hospital care. [3604]

Mr. McCartney: Most benefit recipients, including Retirement Pensioners, have no reduction in their benefits for the first six weeks of a spell in hospital. There is a limited reduction in benefits after six weeks in hospital and a further reduction after 52 weeks in hospital. These rules have been applied with only minor modifications since the introduction of the National Insurance scheme over 50 years ago.

Child Poverty

31. Ms Munn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what progress is being made with the Government's commitment to reduce child poverty by half. [3606]

Malcolm Wicks: Details of the progress we are making in tackling child poverty can be found in our third annual report on poverty and social exclusion, Opportunity for All—making progress (CM 5260), published on 19 September.

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This year's report demonstrates that we have continued to make real improvements, improving the lives, prospects, and opportunities of children and young people. Over the past four years, we have taken action to raise the incomes of families, especially for those on the lowest incomes. To help children out of poverty, we have provided more support than ever before to enable parents to work, and ensure that they are better off in work.

We have introduced a range of tax and benefit reforms to give help at the time when families need it most, whether they are in work or not. The additional resources we are delivering for education and health are helping to reduce the chances of poverty and social exclusion in the longer term. We have also introduced substantial improvements in the system for children and teenagers who are vulnerable, such as children in care, and teenage parents.

Over the next few years we will continue to step up our efforts, including the implementation of major reforms to the child support system, and the introduction of an integrated child credit.

Unemployment (Over-50s)

32. Mr. Lyons: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to help unemployed people over 50 years of age back into work. [3607]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The employment rate of older workers is up for the fourth year running, by 1.3 percentage points on last year's figures. In 2001–02 our range of New Deals, including New Deal 50 plus, New Deal 25 plus and New Deal for Disabled People, will help some 50,000 over-50s into employment.

World Economies

33. Sir Sydney Chapman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his estimate is of the effect on employment in the UK of the state of the world and UK economies. [3608]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: UK GDP continues to grow steadily, bolstered by strong domestic demand, in spite of recent weakness in the world economy. Employment is at record levels and rising, while unemployment is at its lowest for around 25 years.

Although no country can insulate itself from world events, prudent monetary and fiscal policies, with inflation low and borrowing under control, mean that the economy is better placed than in the past to withstand global shocks.

While we do not make forecasts of employment and unemployment, an assessment will be made of economic and labour market developments, incorporating both UK and international economic developments, in the Treasury autumn pre-Budget report.

Women (Return to Work)

34. Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what studies she has undertaken to identify obstacles facing women returning to work. [3609]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: A number of studies have helped inform us about the obstacles faced by women entering the labour market. These include longitudinal studies such

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as the "Survey of Families with Children", conducted by the Policy Studies Institute and the National Centre for Social Research, and a study of lone parent families conducted by the Policy Studies Institute.

Stakeholder Pensions

35. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for what categories of people it will be advantageous to take out a stakeholder pension. [3610]

Mr. McCartney: The Government have introduced stakeholder pensions as part of our long-term reforms to ensure that everyone has the chance to save for a decent income in retirement. They provide a new pension option for moderate and higher earners who do not have access to a good occupational scheme, or a good group personal pension with an employer contributing.

The suitability of a stakeholder pension for any individual is a matter for them to decide in the light of their particular circumstances. Figures from the insurance industry show that in the first four months since their introduction almost 300,000 people had taken out stakeholder pensions.

Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if those who take out a stakeholder pension will be compelled to use their savings to purchase an annuity at the age of 75 years. [3580]

Mr. McCartney: Stakeholder pension funds will be subject to the same rules as other occupational and personal pensions. Where a pension scheme is not able to pay a pension, a fund must be used to buy an annuity by age 75 so as to guarantee a pension income throughout retirement.

Mr. Lazarowicz: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will take steps to increase the take-up of stakeholder pensions by people on lower incomes. [6655]

Mr. McCartney: Stakeholder pensions are primarily intended for those with moderate and higher earnings who do not have access to a good occupational pension, or a good personal pension with an employer contributing.

From April next year, low earners will benefit through the Second State Pension, which reforms SERPS. Under these reforms, low earners will get at least double what they would have got from SERPS, while carers and disabled people with a broken work record will be entitled to a second-tier pension for the first time.

A good second pension, building on the foundation of the basic State Pension, is the key to having a comfortable retirement.

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