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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 15 April 2002


Child Support Agency

3. Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the Child Support Agency's achievement against performance targets in the last five years. [45013]

Mr. Darling: Over the years 1997 to 2001 taken together, the Child Support Agency has met the majority of its targets. It is on course to meet all of its targets this year.

Final Salary Pension Schemes

16. Mr. Pollard: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to encourage companies to retain existing final salaries pension schemes and to make them available to new employees; and if he will make a statement. [45027]

Mr. McCartney: We welcome the fact that many employers continue to provide occupational pensions on a voluntary basis to their employees. Final salary and money purchase schemes can both provide good incomes in retirement as long as sufficient contributions are made. When deciding what type of scheme to offer, an employer must take into account the costs of doing so and the long-term impact on their business. The Government want to create an environment in which employers can continue to provide occupational pension schemes. We want to remove unnecessary burdens on schemes. As part of this we have announced the replacement of the Minimum Funding Requirement. We have already introduced interim changes to the MFR designed to enable it to operate more effectively. We have commissioned Alan Pickering to report in summer 2002 on ways to simplify the overall burden of regulation on schemes and will be publishing proposals later this year.

Housing Benefit

19. Mr. Stunell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on his plans to reform the housing benefit system. [45030]

Malcolm Wicks: We have a comprehensive long-term strategy for reforming housing benefit and dealing with the legacy of neglect we have inherited.

Work is already well under way to radically improve HB administration and bear down on fraud. Many of the key measures set out in our response to consultation on the Housing Green Paper have already been implemented. For example, we have launched comprehensive new performance standards, reformed the extended payments scheme to provide better work incentives, reformed the single room rent, and are making housing benefit easier to administer.

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These form a firm foundation on which we can build more fundamental reform in the longer term.

New Deal

20. Dr. Pugh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what percentage of new deal leavers have entered sustained unsubsidised jobs. [45031]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Up to January 2002, 56 per cent. of young people leaving the new deal for known destinations entered sustained, unsubsidised jobs. In addition, research shows that an equivalent proportion of those leaving for unknown destinations also move into work.

31. Linda Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the New Deal for Lone Parents. [45045]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The New Deal for Lone Parents is a long-term investment, making a real difference to the lives of lone parents and their children. Over 300,000 lone parents have benefited from the help and support offered through the new deal, and over 130,000 of these have found work.

Stakeholder Pensions

21. Mr. Flight: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many of the Government's target group have taken out stakeholder pensions. [45032]

Mr. McCartney: Comprehensive information is not yet available (and will not be until the end of the current tax year). However, early figures from the Association of British Insurers (ABI), based on a limited sample of information from pension providers, show that in cases where earnings of purchasers are known to providers, then the majority of them have earnings of between £10,000 and £30,000 a year. ABI figures also show that 320,000 employers have designated a stakeholder pension scheme for their workforces as at the end of February 2002; representing a compliance rate of over 85 per cent., and over 750,000 people have bought a stakeholder pension.

Pensioner Poverty

22. Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the number of pensioners living in poverty in (a) 1997 and (b) at the latest date for which figures are available. [45033]

Mr. McCartney: Poverty and social exclusion are complex concepts, affecting many aspects of people's lives; including their living standards, health, housing and quality of environment. The third "Opportunity for all" report sets out the Governments strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion and presents the latest information on the indicators used to monitor progress against this strategy.

The Government's first priority was to address the immediate problem of pensioner poverty today. That is why we introduced the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) in April 1999 to provide money for the poorest pensioners as quickly as possible. 2,200 pensioners in the Cotswold constituency are receiving the MIG and over 2 million pensioners nationally benefit from the MIG.

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This Government has also introduced measures to ensure that all pensioners share in rising prosperity. From this April the basic state pension has risen by £3 a week for single pensioners and £4.80 for couples above inflation increases last year.

This is in addition to the introduction of winter fuel payments, currently £200, made to over 11 million pensioners and free TV licences for the over 75s which benefit some 3 million pensioners.

From 2003 the pension credit will reward those who have worked hard and saved hard.

We are also committed to tackling the longer term issues by helping people build up good second pensions. To this end we have introduced stakeholder pensions and improved the state earnings related pension scheme through the introduction of the state second pension. This will boost the additional state pension entitlement of £14 million low and moderate earners. Additionally, for the first time 2 million carers and 2 million people whose working lives are disrupted by long-term illness or disability will also be able to build up entitlement to the state second pension.

Basic Pension

23. Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to restore the link between the basic pension and earnings. [45035]

Mr. McCartney: Restoring the earnings link does nothing to help poorer pensioners. We will be spending an extra £6 billion a year in real terms on pensioners as a result of policies introduced since 1997. This includes £2.5 billion more on the poorest third of pensioners. This is three times more than an earnings link since 1998 would have given them.

Increases in the basic state pension over the last two years have given single pensioners £2.10 a week more than an earnings link would have given them and £3.35 more for couples.

Older People

24. Tony Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to develop his Department's strategy to help older people. [45036]

Mr. McCartney: The Government is committed to improving the position of older people in our society. This is an issue that is relevant not only to my Department but also to others across Government.

The Government's strategy is co-ordinated by a Cabinet sub-committee of Ministers from several Departments, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The strategy consists of five main strands: encouraging and enabling active aging, promoting age diversity, tackling pensioner poverty for today's and future pensioners, maintaining and supporting independence in later life and working in partnership with older people to provide better services focused on the needs of individuals.

We will publish a report later this year that will show how the Government's strategy is helping to ensure that later life is a time of opportunity for older people.

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Jobcentre Plus

25. Jeff Ennis: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people are receiving services from Jobcentre Plus. [45037]

36. Mr. Win Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the progress made in implementing the Jobcentre Plus programme. [45050]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Jobcentre Plus was launched as a national organisation on 1 April, replacing the former Employment Service and the working age functions of the Benefits Agency, and providing services to around 5 million people. The agency's business plan for 2002–03, a copy of which is available in the Library, sets out the organisation's aims and priorities for its first 12 months, including opening around a further 225 fully integrated offices by April 2003.

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