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Mr. Scott : We have received comments on the findings of the surveys of disability carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys from over 40 national and local disability organisations including the Disability Benefits Consortium which represents over 250 disability organisations.
56. Dr. Thomas : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what opportunity he has given disability organisations to comment on the implications of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys survey on disability.
86. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what opportunity he has given disability organisations to comment on the implications for policy which arise from the data published in the Office of Population Censuses and Survey survey on disability.
Mr. Scott : The reports by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys on disabled people were published between September 1988 and July 1989. Copies of the reports dealing with prevalence of disability and the financial circumstances of disabled people were sent to organisations of and for disabled people, together with the successive press notices emphasising our wish to receive comments on the reports and their implications. Many people and organisations have sent us their comments.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Retirement pension is increased each year by the annual rate of the retail prices index. The RPI includes the cost of bus, coach and rail travel but does not take account of concessions in fares.
31. Mr. Michael : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he will make it his policy to so amend benefit regulations affecting young people as to encourage them to gain appropriate education and qualifications without providing discouragement to individuals wishing to take up either part-time or full-time courses.
It is the prime responsibility of unemployed people claiming benefit to make every effort to secure paid employment. Nonetheless the benefits system is already sufficiently flexible to allow those who remain available for and are actively seeking employment to spend their spare time usefully by pursuing a course of part-time study or training. They must, though, organise their studies so that they can make adequate arrangements to seek work and must be prepared to break off their studies if a job opportunity arises. It is not the purpose of the benefits
Column 144system to provide support for those who choose to study full-time. Such provision is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education.
Mr. Scott : On 22 November I was pleased to announce, with my noble Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, the third year of the "Keep Warm, Keep Well" campaign, a unique co-operative venture between statutory and voluntary organisations, which provides up-to-date advice about beating the cold. The campaign's leaflet contains essential information on health, food, draughtproofing, advice from the fuel industry and about cash help and cold weather payments. A copy has been placed in the Library. I hope that this third annual campaign will also increase awareness of the dangers of cold weather among those at risk, their friends, relatives and neighbours and those agencies who care for them.
39. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has as to the number of economically active pensioners in the north-west as a result of the abolition of the earnings rule.
41. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is his estimate of the number of income support claimants in private residential or nursing homes whose personal allowances are spent on meeting the fees for their care.
Column 145Mrs. Gillian Shephard : I refer the hon. Members to my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) earlier today.
representations from organisations and individuals expressing a variety of views.
43. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he now proposes to give any additional benefit to those receiving transitional protection arising from the changes to income support from supplementary benefit.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The normal arrangement is that transitional protection is eroded when benefits are uprated or a claimant's circumstances change. An exception was made in October 1989 when the poorer pensioner package was introduced.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The speed of service has improved since the introduction of the 1988 social security reforms and the first stages of computerisation. The reforms have made the scheme easier for the public to understand and, combined with computerisation, easier for the staff to operate. As a result, so far in 1989-90, there has been a 20 per cent. improvement in the average time taken to process income support claims compared with 1987-88 and a 24 per cent. reduction in the average time income support and social fund callers spend in our offices.
Column 146exercise on computerisation ; what problems the exercise revealed ; what steps he is taking to solve the problems ; and what plans he has for the exercise to go nationwide.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : A report of the pilot exercise on computerisation was produced in September 1989. It concluded that despite teething difficulties the systems were operating satisfactorily and problems identified in piloting had either been resolved or were being tackled as a matter of priority.
The main difficulties encountered related to some of the more complex computer screens ; the need to modify training courses and the need to redesign organisation and jobs.
The recommendations of the pilot exercise are being implemented. Extension of computerisation to other offices began on 23 October in line with the agreed timetable.
Mr. Meacher : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what was his original estimate of the savings to be gained from computerisation ; and what is his revised estimate following evaluation of the pilot exercise.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The original estimate of savings from the computerisation programme was £150 million per year by 1995. Savings estimates are regularly updated ; not only as a result of pilot office evaluation but, also as a result of model office testing, changing workload forecasts and any revised development or implementation plans. We do not keep a record of the changes that are specifically attributable to pilot office evaluation.
52. Mr. Cousins : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the number and value of food vouchers issued (a) by the Newcastle St. James' office of his Department and (b) in the United Kingdom in the period April to October 1989.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The number of food vouchers issued by the Newcastle St. James office between 1 April and 31 October 1989 is 203 at a total value of £4,707.42. Information for the United Kingdom is not available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Estimates of the number of people who will receive community charge benefit are being recalculated to take account of the effects of the transitional relief scheme. I shall write to my hon. Friend when the numbers are known. The Department does not produce projections of the number of people who might be entitled to social security benefits.
54. Mr. Squire : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will bring forward proposals to amend the benefit regulations with a view to reducing homelessness amongst those under 25 years.
Column 147Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Homelessness has many complex causes and it would be wrong to relate it directly to the benefit system which still enables those who are homeless to secure and retain accommodation.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : A wide range of benefits continues to be available to young single homeless people. These benefits are to be increased from April 1990 under the usual uprating arrangements. In addition, I announced today measures which will ensure that special arrangements are made in local social security offices for dealing with income support claims from 16 to 17-year-olds. In particular, all 16 to 17- year-olds will be automatically considered for special hardship payments if they are not otherwise entitled. Details have been placed in the Library.
Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) whether he has any plans to invite evidence from interested parties and independent experts when drawing up his proposals on social security benefits for the disabled ;
(2) whether he has any plans to review the eligibility criteria of mobility allowance so that people with a visual handicap qualify.
Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security (1) what plans he has to increase the level of benefits paid to disabled persons to a level that will allow them to meet the full costs incurred to them by their disability outwith the spending of the non-disabled benefits allowance ;
(2) what plans he has to increase the level of benefits paid to disabled persons in employment so that their income can equate to that of the national average.
Mr. Scott : My right hon. Friend has already announced on 25 October at columns 841-54 a range of improvements in benefits for disabled people and their families. Some of these assist people who, because of their disability, incur additional expenditure or have only limited earning capacity. We intend to bring forward within the next few months more far- reaching proposals, to improve the balance and structure of social security provision for disabled people.
Mr. Nellist : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what would have been the present level of the pensioners' Christmas bonus if it had been raised since it was first introduced by (a) the rise in prices and (b) the rise in average earnings.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The level of Christmas bonus for 1989 had it been raised, since introduction, by the rise in prices or the rise in average earnings would have been £48 or £62 respectively. Source : DSS Extract of Statistics for Index of Retail Prices, Average Earnings, Social Security Benefits and Contributions. Note : Figures rounded to the nearest pound.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Greater Manchester is served by the local offices of Ashton, Bolton, Bury, Central Manchester, Cheetham, Chorlton, Failsworth, Farnworth, Hyde, Leigh, Longsight, Middleton, Oldham, Openshaw, Rochdale, Rusholme, Sale, Salford North, Salford South, Stockport North, Stockport South, Wigan and Wythenshawe, though the boundaries are not conterminous.
The number of people claiming income support is 270,216. Source : August 1989. 100 per cent. count of cases in action. The figure includes a small number of cases not actually in receipt of benefit.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State, met representatives of the National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux on Wednesday 27 September. The discussion covered a wide range of issues.
68. Mr. Andrew Bowden : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make it his policy, in the light of evidence received, to review the income support levels payable to residents of private and voluntary nursing homes.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The level of income support payable to a resident of a private or voluntary nursing home depends on the actual fee charged by the home, subject to national limits depending on the type of home. It is already our policy to review these limits each year, taking account of a variety of evidence, including detailed and differing representations received from various sources. We announced our proposed increases for next year on 25 October.
Column 14970. Mr. Meale : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will ensure that social security benefits paid to people already in private residential and nursing homes in April 1991 will be uprated each year in line with rises in charges.
Mr. Scott : I refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) on 10 November 1989 at column 812 . We shall announce individual local office allocations for 1990-91 in due course.
Mr. Meacher : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security whether he will publish in the Official Report a table showing, for men and women aged 16, 20, 30 and 40 years in April 1988, the ages at which it would pay the person concerned to cease contributing to a personal pension or other money purchase scheme, assuming rates of return of 0.5 per cent. and 2.5 per cent. above the annual increase in average earnings.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : State pensions in most countries of the European Community are related to individual earnings before pension age and so no standard figure for a state pension is possible. Details of the pension systems of the member states of the European Community are contained in the Department's publication "Tables of Social Benefit Systems in the European Communities" the 1989 issue of which is available in the Library.
76. Mr. Marlow : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the average level of social security payments per capita of the total population paid in May 1979 and in May 1989 adjusted for inflation.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : Dividing the total amount of Social security benefit expenditure paid in 1979-80 by estimated population produces an average annual figure of £680 at today's prices, while the corresponding figure for 1989-90 is £870.
80. Mr. Boswell : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what indicators he has used to measure the quality of service offered by his Department as a result of the 1988 social security reforms.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : The quality of service offered by the Department is measured in a variety of ways. Data are collected on the speed with which business is cleared, the accuracy of benefit payments and the length of time callers spend in our offices. In addition, in local offices an annual quality assessment package measures the quality of correspondence, and face-to-face and telephone contact with the public. There is a customer opinion survey element within the package.
Ms. Mowlam : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many officers were involved in detecting evasion of payment of national insurance contributions by employers at the latest date for which figures are available ; what the total estimated cost of such work amounts to ; and what total actual savings resulted from such work.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard : There are approximately 2,000 staff in the Department's local offices who work on a full-time or part-time basis as national insurance inspectors. A major, but unquantifiable proportion of their work is concerned with ensuring that employers meet their obligations for paying national insurance contributions. Within that staff allocation 200 man years are directed solely to this work and during the year ended 31 March 1989 generated income of £34.4 million at an estimated staff cost of £2.3 million. However the main responsibility for the collection of contributions from employers rests with the Inland Revenue which is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Mr. Meacher : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many of the actively seeking work clauses of the Social Security Act 1989 will affect people studying under the 21-hour rule provision.
Column 151is a claimant's personal responsibility to look for work it will make a significant contribution to returning unemployed people to jobs. Unemployed claimants studying under the 21-hour rule must, as before, be prepared to leave their studies immediately should a job opportunity arise. They must also make efforts to seek employment. In determining whether a claimant has taken reasonable steps to seek employment, regard is had to time spent on vocational training or study, but no claimant, no matter how usefully he occupies his time out of work, should ignore job opportunities.
Mr. Scott : We have already been successful in reducing the average time taken to decide attendance allowance claims from 12.5 weeks in 1983 to 7.5 weeks currently. Finding ways to further accelerate the process is not a simple or quick task ; but it is one of the aspects of the attendance allowance scheme which we are considering in the light of the information from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys disability surveys.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security on how many occasions since 1983 the general practitioner of an applicant for attendance allowance was present when their medical assessment for eligibility for the allowance was carried out ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Allen : To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what amount of money has been spent on community care grants in those offices covering Nottingham, North constituency ; and what instructions have been issued by his Department to reduce the categories of people eligible for these grants.
Information on the numbers of applications for social fund loans and grants processed and awarded, listed by local office, including information on budget allocations and expenditure for 1988-89 and 1989-90 to date, may be obtained from the details held in the Library.
There have been no departmental instructions issued to reduce the categories of people eligible for community care grants. Local office managers are required to provide guidance to social fund officers on the level of priorities which should generally be met. Awards of community care grants from the social fund are decided by independent social fund officers based upon the individual circumstances of the applicant and the priority of their needs.