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16 Jan 2003 : Column 743W—continued

Child Poverty

Mrs. Calton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with other Ministers to ensure that no Government strategy impacts adversely on child poverty. [88542]

Malcolm Wicks: The Government is committed to building a fairer and more inclusive society in which everyone can contribute to, and share in, rising national prosperity. 'Opportunity for all—(the) fourth annual report' is the latest in a series that comprehensively describes the Government's strategy and progress in tackling poverty and social exclusion.

The Government has set itself an ambitious target to eradicate child poverty within a generation.

Ministers regularly meet with ministerial colleagues to discuss issues related to the alleviation of child poverty. They attend the Ministerial Group on Children and Young People (MISC9) and the Joint Ministerial Committee on Poverty, both of which address child poverty issues.

Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what differences there are in the treatment of (a) endowment mortgage savings and (b) ISA mortgage savings in assessing savings in each relevant means tested benefit, including council tax benefit with savings thresholds and disregards; and whether this issue is under review. [89104]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 9 January 2003]: Unlike an ISA mortgage savings scheme, an endowment mortgage also provides life insurance cover. It is a long-standing principle that the surrender value of any life insurance policy should be disregarded when determining entitlement to the income- related benefits, including Council Tax Benefit. This is because the intended beneficiaries of life insurance policies, are not the policy-holders themselves, but any dependants they may have at the time of their death. Because a life insurance policy is an integral part of an endowment mortgage, the overall surrender value is disregarded in the same way. However, if a life insurance policy is surrendered early or linked endowment mortgage savings are redeemed, any resulting capital is taken into account in the normal way.

Because ISA mortgage savings schemes do not provide life insurance cover any savings held are taken into account as capital from the outset when determining entitlement to the income-related benefits, including Council Tax Benefit.

We keep all our policies under review. However, we have no plans to change the present rules in this area.

Benefits Budget

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the benefits budget is for this financial year, broken down by English region. [87002]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 12 December 2002]: The Department does not forecast nor budget for expenditure on a regional basis. However, using the regional distribution of benefit expenditure for the

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previous two years, where available, an illustrative regional breakdown of benefit spending for 2002–03 is given in the table.

# billion
Region
North East5.6
North West14.2
Yorkshire and the Humber9.4
East Midlands7.3
West Midlands9.9
Eastern8.8
London13.2
South East12.5
South West8.7
Total England89.6

Source:

Pre-Budget Report forecasts for 2002–03, combined with statistical and accounting data for 2000–01 and 2001–02. Figures may not sum due to rounding.


Information is not available by Government Office Region for some benefits, the main ones being Statutory Maternity Pay, Social Fund and the Independent Living Funds. These are not included in the table. The amount of expenditure on benefits where no information is available is forecast to be #1.6 billion in 2002–03 for Great Britain as a whole (equating to 1.5 per cent. of benefit spending).

Bereavement Allowance

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the time limit is for claiming Bereavement (a) Allowance and (b) Payment; what powers exist to extend the limit in individual cases; and in what circumstances these powers are used. [88470]

Malcolm Wicks: We want bereaved people to claim and receive the help that they and their families are entitled to when they need it—immediately after the bereavement. Most people do: more than four-fifths claim within four or five weeks of their loss.

Entitlement to Bereavement Allowance lasts for 52 weeks after the death of a spouse. If the claim for Bereavement Allowance is made within three months of the death, the benefit will be paid for the full 52 weeks. Where a claim is made more than three months after the death occurred, benefit is paid from the date of claim for the balance of the 52-week period.

There are no powers to extend the three-month time limit for claims for the full 52 weeks benefit. However, there are special rules for cases in which a death is not confirmed until some time after it has occurred, for example, following a disappearance.

Bereavement Payment, a one-off lump sum, must currently be claimed within three months of the death of a spouse. However, we laid amending regulations on 24 October 2002, which extend the time limit within which the lump sum Bereavement Payment may be claimed to 12 months in respect of deaths that occur on or after 1 April 2003. This aligns it with the period for which Bereavement Allowance can be paid. We believe this is a sensible alteration that will simplify the scheme for everyone, while remaining compatible with underlying benefit entitlement rules.

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Child Support Agency

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he expects the computerisation of the Child Support Agency to be completed. [90648]

Malcolm Wicks: I refer my hon. Friend to the written answer I gave the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Duncan) on 27 November 2002, Official Report, column 317W.

Final Salary Pension Schemes

John Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he is taking to encourage companies to retain final salary pension schemes for existing employees and to make them available to new employees. [89051]

Mr. McCartney : I refer my hon. Friend to my written answer of 13 January 2003, Official Report, volume 397, columns 361–62W.

Pensioners

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the role of means-testing in providing provision for pensioners. [89776]

Mr. McCartney: The purpose of the minimum income guarantee is to ensure that no pensioner need live on less than #98.15 a week—#149.80 for couples (from April 2003, #102.10 a week for single pensioners and #155.80 for couples). In addition, the pension credit when it is introduced in October 2003, is intended to reward rather than penalise those people who have modest amounts of second pension or other savings.

Maxwell Communications Pension Plan

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with the Consultative Committee of the Maxwell Communications Pension Plan; and if he will make a statement on the proposed reduction in benefits payable to pensioners under the plan. [88980]

Mr. McCartney: The Government is aware of the difficulties surrounding the Maxwell Communications Pension Plan and sympathises with those affected.

We have had discussions with the Independent Trustee of the Plan, The Law Debenture Trust Corporation plc. but have received no request to meet the Consultative Committee of the Maxwell Communication Pension Plan.

The difficulties faced by the Plan are not connected to Maxwell's original fraud but reflect the subsequent performance of the pension fund in relation to the scheme's liabilities. As we have made clear to Law Debenture, this is an issue for the trustees, not the Government.

We have set out the facts of the case in full in our response to representations received on this matter and I have placed a copy of that response in the Library.

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State Second Pension

Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what is the weekly value of the state second pension in 2050 in the case illustrated in Figure 7.5 of the pensions Green Paper (Cm 5677); what it would have been under SERPS (a) as amended prior to April 2002 and (b) if the 20 best years provision had not been repealed; and what are the assumed earnings of the woman concerned. [89646]

Mr. McCartney: The weekly value of the state second pension in the particular case illustrated is #67. The weekly value of SERPS as amended prior to April 2002 is #33. If the 20 best years provision had not been repealed, the weekly value of SERPS would have been #87.

It is assumed that the woman in question earns the average female full-time weekly wage when working full time (#383) and the average female part-time weekly wage when working part time (#144). She is assumed to work for 30 years, 17 of which are full-time.

The reason that the 20 best years provision in SERPS generates a higher pension than state second pension is that an example of someone with substantial full-time work at average earnings is used. State second pension has been designed to benefit lower earners and part-time workers who would generally receive far less from the 20 best years rule than from state second pension.


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