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Mr. Nicholas Brown: As part of our strategy to combat social exclusion, we are committed to helping resettled offenders overcome the barriers they face in getting work. Ex-offenders who are in work are half as likely to re-offend as those without a job.
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for adults. Last October we introduced Freshstart, a £3 million initiative to improve the links between prisons and jobcentres and ease the transition from custody into work. In addition, we are also looking to draw resettled offenders who have recovered from drug misuse into our progress2work initiative. Progress2work pathfinders are already up and running in 27 areas and will be rolled out nationally next year.
We introduced Employment Zones to help long-term unemployed people in deprived areas get and keep work. Up to March 2002, the 15 zones had helped over 22,200 people move into work. We are in the process of extending the contracts of existing Employment Zones up to March 2004.
Action Teams for Jobs are also helping tackle joblessness in the most employment deprived areas in the country. Up to April 2002, over 30,000 people had moved into work through action teams. The team in my hon. Friend's constituency started work in mid-October 2001 and covers the five most employment-deprived wards in Halton. To the end of April this year, the team had already engaged 392 people and helped 126 of them into work.
We are building on action teams' success. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced the introduction of a new Transport Projects Fund worth £5 million a year. Action teams can bid for additional money from this fund to support innovative transport projects that will benefit their local community.
Mr. McCartney: We are committed to reducing discrimination against older people. The Department is responsible for promoting the business case for non-ageist employment practises to all employers and individuals across Great Britain. Through our Age Positive campaign, we are working to challenge ageist employment practices leading up to the implementation of age legislation covering employment, vocational training and guidance in 2006.
Evaluation of the impact of our Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment indicates that since it was launched in 1999, the number of companies using age criteria in recruitment has halved from 27 per cent. to
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13 per cent., and the number of companies with policies against employing older people has also halved from 14 per cent. to 7 per cent.
One of our Public Service Agreement targets is to increase the employment rate of people aged 50 and over, reducing the difference between that rate and the overall employment rate. By tackling discrimination and offering a range of back to work help, including New Deal 50-plus, the employment rate for people aged 50 to state pension age has increased each year for the last four years, faster than the overall rate.
Mr. McCartney: As part of the Government's commitment to combating poverty and providing security and independence for people aged 60 or over, new measures have been introduced to automatically identify pensioners who might be entitled to Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) and encourage them to claim. These measures build on the successful Take Up campaign which ran from May to November 2000, and contacted 2.4 million potential MIG customers. It generated approximately 1 million responses. Further mail shots in March 2001 coincided with the increase in capital limits from £8,000 to £12,000.
From April 2002, all customers contacting the RP Teleclaims Centre are offered information on MIG and asked if they would like someone to call them back to provide them with more information and pursue a claim. Those customers who do not wish to claim MIG via the RP Telecentre are sent a MIG information leaflet with their RP claim pack.
From April 2002, all customers who have claimed RP since November 2000 (the end of the last MIG take-up campaign) who have been identified as having a potential entitlement to MIG are being issued with a mailshot letter and leaflet to encourage them to claim. Around 100,000 pensioners will receive a mailshot over the April-June period.
Further (Key Life Event) MIG triggers have been introduced. Departmental data matching techniques are now being used to identify other new and existing pensioners with potential entitlement to MIG. These triggers identify customers who have a match with one or more predetermined 'key life events', which may indicate a potential entitlement to MIG, for example, when customers aged 60 and over receive a new award of one or more benefits, such as attendance allowance, industrial injuries benefit or housing benefit. A mailshot comprising a letter explaining the possible entitlement and inviting customers to claim along with a MIG1L leaflet is sent to all customers identified in this way.
In order to ensure take up of winter fuel payments, an information campaign ran throughout 2001, including advertisements in national and local press, a leaflet and poster made available in a variety of venues, including social security offices, post offices, supermarkets and doctors surgeries, a dedicated winter fuel payment helpline and information on the internet.
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Through all of the above measures we intend to ensure that as many potentially eligible people over the age of 60 as possible do not miss out on the additional source of income MIG can provide them with.
Mr. McCartney: The Government want all pensioners to have a decent and secure income in retirement and to share fairly in the rising prosperity of the country. The Government's first priority has been to help the poorest pensioners.
The Government introduced the minimum income guarantee and are committed to raising this in line with earnings throughout this Parliament, ensuring that pensioners share in rising prosperity. The Government have introduced winter fuel payments for older people. The winter fuel payment was doubled to £200 a year in winter 200001 for qualifying households and will continue to be paid at £200 for the lifetime of this Parliament. The Government have also introduced free TV licences for the over-75s, worth £104. Both the WFP and TV licences are non-means tested and tax-free.
The Government have made above-inflation increases in the basic state pension in both 2001 and 2002. In April 2002 the basic state pension rose by £3 for single pensioners and £4.80 for couples. In April 2003, it will rise by at least £100 a year for single pensioners and £160 for couples, and in subsequent years by either 2.5 per cent. or by inflation, whichever is highest.
In the constituency of Altrincham and Sale, West, around 2,400 pensioners are receiving the minimum income guarantee. There were also around 19,000 winter fuel payments made last winter and there are 7,500 pensioner households who could benefit from a free TV licence.
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