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Pickering Review

Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the original scope was of the inquiry into pensions which he asked Mr. Alan Pickering to conduct for his Department; and whether and to what extent that scope has been modified. [38453]

Mr. McCartney: The Pickering simplification review is a comprehensive review of private pensions legislation. It will propose a package of options for simplifying the regulatory framework, consistent with the maintenance of proper protection for pension members. A consultation document for the review was published on 19 October 2001 and is available in the Library. This included the terms of reference of the review, which have not been changed.

Pensions

Mr. Prosser: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to ensure that growth in pensions is linked to growth in the economy. [35755]

Mr. McCartney: The basic state pension remains the foundation for income in retirement. Increases announced for last April and next in the basic state pension have given single pensioners 2.10 more than an earnings link would have given them and 3.35 more for couples. We have given a guarantee that the basic state pension will be increased by at least 100 a year for single pensioners and 160 for couples in 2003–04, and in future years by 2.5 per cent. or the increase in the September Retail Prices Index, whichever is the higher.

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We are also committed to increasing the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) in line with earnings. Around 2 million less-well-off pensioners benefit from this. The income guarantee element of Pension Credit will replace MIG from October 2003 and this will be uprated in line with earnings throughout this Parliament. Around half of all pensioner households will be entitled to it and will be better off because they will gain, year-on-year, a larger increase in their state support than they would receive from an earnings link in the basic state pension.

By April 2002, as a result of this Government's policies compared with the 1997 system, an average pensioner household will be 840 a year better off and around 1.8 million of the poorest pensioner households will be over 1000 a year better off.

Doctors' Handwriting

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what delays were caused in the hearings of appeals of disability claims to the tribunal service owing to the illegibility of doctors' handwriting in (a) 1992 and (b) 1997; and what the most recent available figures are for each health authority in England. [38335]

Maria Eagle: The information is not available.

Accountancy Services

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the total cost to his Department was for accountancy services in each of the last four years.[34160]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The Department's information systems do not allow the cost of accountancy services to be isolated separately. These costs are contained within a wider Professional Services heading and could not be isolated without incurring disproportionate cost.

Fair Trade

Mr. Weir: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to his answer of 19 November 2001, Official Report, column 145W, on Fair Trade goods, if he will review during Fair Trade Fortnight the amount of fairly traded goods used in his Department. [35452]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The Department obtains the majority of fair trade goods it uses from outsourced services, for example catering. It is our policy to consider ethical factors throughout our supply chain and we will review the use of Fair Trade goods with our suppliers during Fair Trade Fortnight.

Lone Parents

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the research his Department has conducted on the impact of the New Deal for Lone Parents on the employment rate for lone parents; and if he will place copies of this research in the Library. [34889]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: XNDLP Evaluation: A Quantitative Survey of Lone Parents on Income Support" was published in November 2001 and is

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available in the Library. For earlier research reports I refer my right hon. Friend to the answer I gave him on 23 November 2001, Official Report, column 537W.

Employment Zone (South Tyneside)

Mr. Hepburn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the employment zone in South Tyneside in reducing unemployment. [34560]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The Action Team for Jobs in South Tyneside is helping tackle joblessness in the area. The Team is performing well. In its first full year of operation, the Team worked with 688 disadvantaged jobless people, helping 333 (48 per cent.) of them into jobs.


Disability Employment Advisers

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the number of Jobcentres for which each disability employment adviser is responsible, and the procedures that are in place for dealing with cover during times of (a) sickness and (b) agreed absence; and if he will make a statement. [37584]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The Employment Service aims to provide a high quality service to disabled people and their employers. In order to deliver this service we have in place a network of around 650 specialist disability employment advisers.

Information on which Jobcentres each disability employment adviser has responsibility for is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

The procedure to cover both unplanned and agreed absences is normally that another member of disability service staff will carry out pre-arranged, priority work such as interviews with clients. If a disability service team member of staff is not available, procedures are in place to ensure that urgent advice can be sought from an experienced adviser where necessary.

Industrial Action (Jobcentre Plus)

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many days will have been lost to industrial action since September 2001 as a result of the action taken by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union. [32648]

Mr. Nicholas Brown [holding answer 5 February 2002]: Some 217,000 days have been lost to strike action by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union in the Department since September 2001 up to and including 31 January 2002.

Three quarters of the combined staff of the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service remained at work during the second two days of national strike action on 28 and 29 January.

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Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many benefit claimants have had personal adviser consultations postponed as a result of industrial action undertaken by Jobcentre Plus staff. [32640]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: This information is not available.

Assaults (Benefits Staff)

Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his Department's policy is for dealing with claimants who (a) verbally and (b) physically attack staff in Benefits Agency, Employment Service and Jobcentre Plus offices. [32650]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Ministers and Senior Management have made clear that we will not tolerate threats, abuse, actual or attempted assaults on our staff in the Benefits Agency, the Employment Service and Jobcentre Plus. Our staff are public servants who strive to give a quality service.

The overwhelming majority of people who use our offices behave well, but we are not prepared to allow a small minority of violent or abusive people to deflect us from achieving the outstanding service levels for which we are aiming.

Our clear policy is not to tolerate abusive or violent behaviour. People who act in this way will be asked to leave our offices. We will not hesitate to involve the Police; to deny abusive and violent people future access to our offices; and, where appropriate, to prosecute.

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many physical assaults there have been in the Jobcentre Plus Pathfinder Clusters since their establishment in September 2001; how many assaults there have been in offices with screened areas; and if he will make a statement. [32758]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: [holding answer 4 February 2002]: Benefits Agency staff receive training for the specific roles they undertake and will continue to do so in the organisations that succeed it. Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service will come into being from April 2002.

During the design and development of the Jobcentre Plus pathfinders, the safety of staff has been of paramount importance. All staff have received training for the specific roles they undertake and staff dealing with the public have been trained in preventing and calming difficult situations.

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will provide additional training for Benefits Agency staff to help them deal with individual threats. [32970]

Mr. Nicholas Brown [holding answer 4 February 2002]: Benefits Agency staff receive training for the specific roles they undertake and will continue to do so in the organisations that succeed it. Jobcentre Plus and the Pension Service will come into being from April 2002.

During the design and development of the Jobcentre Plus pathfinders, the safety of staff has been of paramount importance. All staff have received training

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for the specific roles they undertake and staff dealing with the public have been trained in preventing and calming difficult situations.


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