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Final Salary Pensions

25. Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to assist employers administering final salary pension schemes. [63411]

Mr. McCartney: The Pickering Review of pensions regulation is looking at ways of simplifying the regulatory regime for pensions, in order to lessen the administrative burden on employers providing occupational pension schemes, including final salary schemes. This review is due to report in the next few weeks and we intend to respond to it in the Autumn. In addition, the Inland Revenue are undertaking a review of pensions taxation which is due to report later this year.

29. Hugh Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on final salary pension schemes. [63416]

Mr. McCartney: Final salary schemes have provided good pension provision for many individuals. They have been in decline since the 1960s and recently there has been an increase in the number of final salary schemes closing to new members. The reasons for this are complex, in particular that people are living longer which increases scheme liabilities, and that investment returns have been lower than in the past.

What is required is a regime that allows sustainable pension provision. It is Government's role to ensure that the right framework is in place. That is why we commissioned the review of pensions regulation by Alan Pickering that is due to report in the summer.

Biometric Benefit Entitlement Cards

30. Mike Gapes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to introduce biometric benefit entitlement cards. [63417]

Malcolm Wicks: This Department has no plans to introduce biometric benefit entitlement cards.

Pension Service

33. Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Pension Service in meeting the needs of all pensioners. [63420]

Mr. McCartney: It is very early days yet but we are committed to making a real difference to the lives of pensioners.

The Pension Service, formally launched on 1 April 2002, will provide a modern, efficient and customer focused service, dedicated to combating poverty and encouraging saving for both today's and future pensioners.

It will comprise centralised pension centres working with an improved local service nationwide which will operate in the community working with local partners to provide face to face contact for pensioners. To date ten pension centres are starting to establish themselves along call-centre lines as planned.

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A key aim of The Pension Service is to provide an excellent customer service by making use of the advances in new technology. This will be done through our call-centres. Customers can access us easily through a simple range of telephone numbers, and can get their claims and queries dealt with quickly by trained experts who understand state pensions and the needs of their customers.

We fully recognise that not everyone can access the service using the telephone, post or internet—and for those customers there will be a community based local service.

On current planning assumptions the local service is being introduced on a phased basis and should be in place nationwide by October 2002. It will be made up of two key elements. A direct local service, providing support directly to customers which will include a targeted visiting service both in the home and at third party locations, and a 'drop in' surgery service for outreach and take up activities; and partnership services provided with partners such as local authorities and voluntary sector organisations.

The Pension Service sees a key shift in emphasis from processes to people: their needs, what they want and the way they want it delivered. This improved service will be rolled out over the next few years. In the interim, our customers will continue to deal with their existing social security offices until they are contacted in writing about the new arrangements.

Workplace Training

34. Dr. Palmer: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what he is doing to encourage an increase in labour force skills by means of workplace training. [63421]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: We offer a range of work- based training opportunities to ensure that long-term unemployed and economically inactive people have the skills and experience they need to find and remain in work.

Work-based training is an important element in the New Deals and the Work-Based Learning for Adults programme. These offer participants real work experience with employers and the opportunity to develop job- related skills.

We are working closely with employers to ensure that their skill needs are met. For example, we are introducing Ambition programmes to enable people to gain the right skills through work experience and undertaking training designed by employers. Ambition programmes will engage with key sectors such as construction, retail, information technology and energy.

We, and colleagues at the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Trade and Industry, have asked the Regional Development Agencies to lead in the development of the Framework for Regional Employment & Skills Action (FRESA). This strategic partnership of organisations includes Jobcentre Plus, the CBI, the TUC, the Learning and Skills Council and local authorities. FRESAs will promote a collaborative, proactive approach to employment and skills in regions.

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They will give a clear focus to what is needed to ensure that each region has a wide range of job opportunities and a workforce with the skills employers require.

Child Benefit

35. Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to change the entitlements to child benefit. [63422]

Malcolm Wicks: As a consequence of the introduction of the Child Tax Credit and the transfer of the administration of Child Benefit to the Inland Revenue from April 2003, there are minor changes to the entitlement conditions of Child Benefit contained in the Tax Credit Bill currently before Parliament.

New Deal 50 Plus

36. Colin Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the new deal 50 plus. [63423]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: New deal 50 plus has been subject to a comprehensive programme of evaluation, including quantitative surveys and qualitative research. A number of research reports have been published, the most recent of which is a summary report published in December 2001 (Atkinson, J. Evaluation of the new deal 50 plus: Summary Report. ESR103, December 2001). Copies of the reports can be found in the Library.

Research findings show generally positive views about the programme from both clients and staff. The key element of the programme is seen to be the tax-free earnings top-up (Employment Credit). It has been successful in moving a high proportion of clients from benefits into employment. By the end of April 2002, nearly 70,000 people had claimed the Employment Credit.


Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, (1) pursuant to his answer of 16 May 2002, Official Report, column 849W, on pensions, what the average amount contributed to pension in 2001 was for each member covered by a funded pension arrangement; and if he will make a statement on his assessment of the adequacy of this amount; [64205]

Mr. McCartney: Contributions to unfunded occupational pensions are excluded.

It is not possible to calculate reliably average contribution amounts per person. This is because relevant figures are not available from comparable data sources.

In my written answer to the hon. Member, 16 May 2002, Official Report, column 849W, I provided estimates of contributions to private pensions. These figures contained some transfers, as indicated in footnote 6 to table 1. But footnote 6 also stated 'Information on the amount of these transfers is not available.' However I am now advised by ONS that information on transfers is

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derivable and could be significant. The ONS are examining urgently the basis on which such figures could be reliably produced and published.

My answer of 16 May used figures published in ONS's MQ5 publication to estimate contributions to private pensions. Such contributions can also be estimated by using Inland Revenue figures on tax relief given on pension contributions and the average rates of this tax relief. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has provided details today in answer to a question from the hon. Member. The implication of the published Inland Revenue series is of a clear increase in the rate of contributions.

However, the statistical breakdown of figures relating to private pensions produced by either method is complex. ONS are carrying out an investigation to establish the best way to calculate and present such figures as a matter of priority. This work will include external experts. Until it concludes, estimates of the level of pension contributions will need to be treated with particular care.

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