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Genetic Discrimination

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if the Government will introduce legislation to prevent genetic discrimination by employers, with specific reference to the refusal of employment on the grounds of adverse genetic test results. [55634]

Maria Eagle: We have no plans to introduce such legislation. The Human Genetics Commission is drawing up a report to Health and Science Ministers on the storage, protection and use of personal genetic information. This will include advice on the use of genetic testing in employment. We will carefully consider the commission's advice when it is received.

Benefit Rules

Mr. Miller: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he plans to take to simplify the benefit rules for people in residential care. [58527]

Maria Eagle: From 8 April 2002 all new customers (and all former preserved rights customers) in independent residential care, nursing homes and local authorities accommodation are entitled to the standard income support, personal allowance. Customers already in receipt of the residential allowance or part III accommodation rate on 8 April 2002 continue to receive it for as long as they satisfy the conditions for entitlement.

From October 2003 we intend to simplify the rules governing those customers in residential care by removing the residential allowance and part III accommodation rate for all customers. Introducing the same rules for people in care as for those supported in their own homes will simplify the system, making it more transparent and easier for customers to understand.

A consultation document setting out our proposals in detail is published today and a copy has been placed in the Library.

Press and Public Relations

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many people were employed in a press or public relations function in his Department on 1 January in (a) 1997, (b) 1998, (c) 1999, (d) 2000, (e) 2001 and (f) 2002. [39933]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on 4 February 2002, Official Report, column 760W.

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the total cost of running the Department's press office was in (a) 1996–97 and (b) the latest year for which figures are available. [46802]

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Mr. Nicholas Brown [holding answer 10 April 2002]: The Department for Work and Pensions was formed in May 2001. This involved the amalgamation of parts of Department for Education and Employment (including the Employment Service) with the Department for Social Security.

The annual running cost for the press office from May 2001 to the end of April 2002 was £1.211 million. This figure includes both salaries and running costs for all press office activity.

Entertainment Costs

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list for each of the last five years the total amount of money spent by Ministers in his Department on food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for official entertainment purposes. [47208]

Mr. McCartney [holding answer 10 April 2002]: The Department's accounting systems do not separately identify entertainment costs incurred by Ministers. The information could not be provided without incurring disproportionate costs.

Incapacity Benefits

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, pursuant to his written answers of 6 March 2002, Official Report, column 411W, and 2 May 2002, Official Report, column 983W, for what reason a revised version of the system used to allocate individuals to local areas was used; and what criteria he has used to calculate the number of claimants of incapacity benefits. [56201]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The number of people claiming incapacity benefit is taken from a quarterly 5 per cent. scan of the benefit computer system. The process of calculating the number of incapacity benefit claimants was not altered for August 2001.

Individuals are assigned to local authorities and other areas by matching postcodes against the relevant Office for National Statistics (ONS) postcode directory. The ONS postcode directory used in the original allocation of August 2001 incapacity benefit data was later revised by ONS using an improved methodology. Numbers of incapacity benefit recipients by local authority were consequently recalculated and revised.

Law Enforcement Agencies

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what law enforcement agencies and prosecuting authorities designated with legislation there are within the responsibility of his Department; and what complaints procedure is available for each. [57100]

Mr. McCartney [holding answer 16 May 2002]: There are no law enforcement agencies nor prosecuting authorities designated with legislation within the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Winter Fuel Payments

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what time limit for claims for winter fuel payments will be imposed for winter 2002; and if it will

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be possible to accept claims now from pensioners who would have qualified for payments in winter 2000 and 2001 who did not submit claims in time. [57207]

Mr. McCartney: The majority of eligible people will again receive their winter fuel payments automatically for winter 2002–3. Those people who need to claim for winter 2002–03 will have until 30 March 2003 to do so. Claims from people who did not claim within the time limits for winters 2000–01 and 2001–02 cannot now be paid for those winters. However, failure to submit a claim for one winter does not preclude a person from claiming for the next winter, subject to the time limits. Claim forms for winter 2002–03 will be available later this year.


Mr. Peter Duncan: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what proportion of pensions are underfunded on an MFR basis in the (a) public and (b) private sector; and if he will make a statement on trends in each sector. [57308]

Mr. McCartney: Private sector defined benefit pension schemes are generally subject to the Minimum Funding Requirement (MFR). Many public sector pension schemes are either unfunded (such as the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme) or covered by alternative legislation (such as the Local Government Pension Scheme) and are therefore not subject to the MFR. There are, however, a number of funded public sector schemes to which the MFR applies, such as those covering employees of some non-departmental public bodies.

Information on the MFR funding levels of private sector defined benefit schemes is available from the Employers' Pension Provision (EPP) Survey. Information is not available for public sector pension schemes which are subject to the MFR.

The latest EPP survey, carried out in 2000, indicated that around one in eight (13 per cent.) private sector defined benefit schemes were less than 100 per cent. funded on the MFR basis. Six per cent. of schemes were funded at less than 90 per cent. and 7 per cent. were funded at least at 90 per cent. but at less than 100 per cent. Almost all schemes surveyed that were underfunded had taken action to rectify this situation. These actions included increasing the employers' contributions (78 per cent.), increasing the members' contributions (29 per cent.) and making a cash injection to the fund (19 per cent).

It is not possible at present to identify funding trends from the data available, because only one full cycle of triennial scheme valuations has been carried out since the MFR was introduced in 1997. However, in February 2002, for the purposes of the regulatory impact assessment which accompanied the regulations recently introduced to make interim changes to the MFR, around one in six private sector defined benefit pension schemes were estimated to be underfunded on the MFR basis. This estimate was based on information collected by the actuarial profession from consulting actuaries and insurance companies between 1997 and 2000, and has been adjusted by the Government Actuary's Department broadly to take account of the likely effects on scheme funding levels of subsequent changes in conditions.

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Foster Carers

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if home responsibilities protection will be given to foster carers; [56240]

Mr. McCartney: Home responsibilities protection in respect of carers of children is awarded through child benefit entitlement. Foster parents do not receive child benefit directly unless they have a child of their own aged under 16. We are currently reviewing these arrangements to ascertain if the position of foster carers can be improved.

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