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New Deal for Young People

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people have undertaken child care training and work experience through the New Deal for Young People; and how many of them have found permanent employment in this field. [33626]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Between 5 January 1998 and 4 January 2002, 7,016 young people had undertaken child care training and work experience through the full time education and training, voluntary sector and environmental task force options within New Deal for Young People. In the same period, 1,497 young people entered subsidised employment in child care through the employment option. A further 2,859 went directly into jobs in child care from the New Deal.



Asbestos (Compensation)

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the Government's policy is on providing compensation to those suffering from the effects of exposure to asbestos. [34274]

Malcolm Wicks: Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit is available for people who are 1 per cent. disabled through having contracted pneumoconiosis (including asbestosis and silicosis) or diffuse mesothelioma through their work, and to those at least 14 per cent. disabled from primary carcinoma of the lung where there is evidence of asbestosis or diffuse pleural thickening. The current maximum weekly rate is £112.90. In addition, if the person

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requires someone to look after them, constant attendance allowance, at a maximum of £90.40 a week, and exceptionally severe disablement allowance at £45.20 a week may be payable. Reduced earnings allowance is also available to compensate people, including those whose level of disablement is less than 14 per cent., who suffer a loss of earnings as a result of their disablement.

To make sure a person does not get compensation twice for the same need, benefits paid from the date of an accident or the date of claim in respect of a disease are recovered from the compensator up to the date of any final compensation payment, subject to a five year maximum. Future benefits are not taken into account. Nor are past payments inflated into present values.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions announced on 13 February 2002, Official Report, column 401W, additional support for people exposed to asbestos and affected by the 11 December 2001 Court of Appeal judgment in the "Fairchild" case is now available from his Department. The compensation scheme administered by DTLR under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979 will be extended to make payments to these people provided they meet the conditions of eligibility.

Skill Shortages

Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what steps he is taking to facilitate people gaining employment in industries in which skill shortages exist. [36866]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: We are working closely with employers to understand their needs, so we can improve the support we give to people without work. We have set up the National Employer Panel, an employer-led body which will recommend to Government ways of ensuring employment programmes are responsive to the changing needs of employers and individuals.

We have a dynamic labour market—with 6 million people changing jobs every year and a record 28.2 million people in work—and there are many competing opportunities. We recognise that some industries are facing difficulties in attracting new recruits with the required skills. We provide support for specific industries, where this is appropriate. For example, we have introduced Ambition: Construction which is designed to help meet skill shortages and help 1,000 long-term unemployed people into construction jobs. In addition, the Employment Service works closely with the road haulage industry in a number of locations to facilitate skills development in this sector.

The Department is also working closely with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Skills to address the recommendations of the Performance and Innovation Unit's Workforce Development report, which sets out a longer-term vision for addressing skill needs.

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We, and colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Trade and Industry, have asked the Regional Development Agencies to lead the Framework for Regional Employment and Skills Action (FRESA). This strategic partnership of organisations includes the CBI, the TUC, the Learning and Skills Council, the Employment Service and Local Government Associations. The work of the FRESAs will provide a co-ordinated strategy for skills, ensuring a more efficient service for employers and individuals alike.

Child Poverty

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement about the Government's strategy to combat child poverty. [40143]

Malcolm Wicks: Details of the Government's strategy to combat child poverty can be found in our annual report on poverty and social exclusion, Opportunity for all. The most recent of these is Opportunity for all—making progress (CM 5260), which was published on the 19 September 2001 and is in the Library.

Homelessness

Dr. Desmond Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he will take to help local authorities cut the use of bed and breakfast hotels for housing homeless people. [43755]

Malcolm Wicks: We will provide extra funding through the housing benefit subsidy system, worth around £10 million in 2002–03, to help local authorities house homeless people in self-contained temporary accommodation rather than in bed and breakfast hotels.

Under current rules for temporary accommodation, the Department for Work and Pensions refunds 95 per cent. (the normal "full" subsidy rate) of any housing benefit that authorities pay on rents up to their subsidy threshold. Rents above the subsidy threshold up to the cap are reimbursed at 12.5 per cent., while there is no subsidy at all for rents above the cap.

From April 2002, we will raise the 12.5 per cent. reimbursement rate to 95 per cent. for leased and licensed accommodation, while keeping it unchanged for bed and breakfasts.

Paying full subsidy up to the cap should make private sector leasing an affordable option even in expensive areas, building on the significant increase in thresholds and caps that we introduced last year. It will give councils a major incentive to shift away from using bed and breakfast accommodation, benefiting thousands of homeless families. And we are considering strengthening that incentive further from April 2003, once authorities have had time to respond to the new arrangements: for example, by reducing the 12.5 per cent. subsidy on bed and breakfast rents.

This reform supports the homelessness strategy announced today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, at columns 1091–94W above.

Benefit Claims (Hackney)

Dr. Desmond Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if the London Borough of

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Hackney has met the terms of the direction he issued on 12 October 2001 in connection with claims for housing benefit and council tax benefit. [43756]

Malcolm Wicks: Following an assessment by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate, we are satisfied that the London Borough of Hackney has met the terms of the direction given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 12 October 2001 in respect of housing benefit and council tax benefit.

The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate's report of its assessment has been placed in the Library.

The report shows that the authority responded well to the challenge of the direction and that it is also putting in place the necessary processes to improve performance generally. The large backlog of 39,000 outstanding cases on 19 April 2001 was cleared by 31 December 2001 and was done without compromising the standards of other benefits work not associated with the backlog. There were indications that the level of accuracy had in fact risen following the issue of the direction.

The Benefit Fraud Inspectorate did find some areas where they considered there was a need for improvement, for example in the way sample cases for checking were selected and recorded. The report suggests a number of areas of good practice that the Authority will be able to make use of to address the weaknesses identified.

There is still much that needs to be done to make the service fully effective, but the authority is to be commended for the significant improvements found by the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate.

Mental Health

Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the integration of people with mental health problems in society. [40652]

Jacqui Smith: I have been asked to reply.

Standard 1 of the National Service Framework for Mental Health requires local services to develop and implement coherent strategies to combat discrimination against people with mental health problems and to promote their social inclusion. The Department of Health is working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to find ways of providing active help and encouragement for them to move into work; taking the obstacles to work out of the benefits system; making sure that work pays; and promoting radical change in the workplace to ensure equality and opportunity.


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