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Long-term Unemployed

14. Mr. Truswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans she has for getting thelong-term unemployed off social security benefits and into work.[9041]

Mr. Field: By the middle of next year, the Government will bring on stream two policies aimed at helping the long-term unemployed back to work. There will be a job subsidy for that group. In addition, those wishing to participate in up-to-year-long education courses that are related to their work aspirations will be allowed to do so.

Mr. Truswell: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. What work is his Department doing in conjunction with other Departments to ensure access to high-quality--I stress, high-quality--employment opportunities for my constituents and to move away from the rag bag of often Mickey Mouse schemes to which they were subjected by the Conservatives?

Mr. Field: The Government's intent is clear: we are aiming for high-quality employment opportunities. If people gain opportunities in the private sector, the chances of their long-term employment prospects being enhanced are greater and that is where much of our effort will go.

Mr. Willetts: Does the Minister agree that one way of helping people into work is through family credit, which is paid as a benefit, often to the mother? Does he also agree that that contrasts with tax allowances or the earned income tax credit, which are payable to a person in work, often the father? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall his strong arguments when he was in opposition in favour of giving the benefit to the mother rather than the tax allowance to the father? Is that still his view?

Mr. Field: Given the views of the hon. Gentleman, clearly when one sinner repents, there is great delight in heaven; when two repent, goodness knows the extent of the enjoyment there.

Social Security Tribunals

15. Mr. Watts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will make a statement on the Government's policy on welfare reform relating to social security tribunals.[9042]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Keith Bradley): We are determined to reduce the current delays and complexity in the appeals system. On 9 July, we introduced the Social Security Bill, which paves the way for modernising the delivery of social security. The Secretary of State will assume responsibility for the administration of the appeals system; set and publish demanding targets for the appeals service to meet; and report on the results.

Mr. Watts: I thank my hon. Friend for that full and honest reply. If we are to have a modern, efficient and fair system, does he agree that the Social Security Department needs to do more to ensure that people take up the benefits to which they are entitled? What action will his

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Department take to ensure that all those who are eligible receive that to which they are entitled? Can he assure me that action will be taken as quickly as possible?

Mr. Bradley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. We want to introduce a modern, efficient and effective social security system. We also want to ensure that everyone is aware of his or her rights and that the information they require to ensure that they take up their entitlement is available to them. We will debate those matters as the Social Security Bill goes through the House and I assure my hon. Friend that his points about take-up will be considered then.

New Deal for Lone Parents

16. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations she has received from organisations representing lone parents on the impact of the welfare-to-work proposals announced in the Budget.[9043]

Ms Harman: The national lone parent organisations--Gingerbread and the National Council for One Parent Families--have warmly welcomed the new deal for lone parents, which we announced in the Budget. They are working with us on that programme as it gets under way.

Those organisations know, as we do, that lone parents want the opportunity to work to provide a better life for themselves and their children.

Mrs. Campbell: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome given by lone parent organisations in my constituency for her new deal for lone parents which she launched in my constituency last week? Will she also consider, however, that some parents are still experiencing difficulties, namely, those who work anti-social hours and who therefore have to use informal kinds of child care, which at present are not eligible for the child care disregard? Will she take that into account when considering the effect of her scheme?

Ms Harman: Certainly, we shall need to look at the opportunities available for child care and combining it with work governed by inflexible hours. As my hon. Friend will know, we are establishing a national child care strategy which will help to improve the affordability of child care through the child care disregard. That strategy will also help the provision of child care through after-school clubs, which will be funded by the national midweek lottery, and the provision of more places in those clubs and at nurseries through the use of the single regeneration budget.

It is certainly true that in terms of child care provision for those who work ordinary hours or more flexible hours, Britain's children are Europe's poor relations, because lone mothers in other European countries are able to work to support themselves and their children, and thus enjoy a better standard of living than their counterparts in this country. The absence of appropriate child care in this country is one reason why we have twice as many lone parents dependent on benefit as our European colleagues, and half as many in work.

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Benefit Entitlement (Young People)

21. Mr. Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans she has to change benefit entitlement for those aged 16 to 25 years.[9049]

Mr. Keith Bradley: We want to ensure that all young people are in employment, training or education rather than dependent on benefit. That is why we are planning to replace youth training for 16 and 17-year-olds and enhance other opportunities for such young people. Through our proposals in the new deal, we shall be investing in the future of the young jobless aged 18 to 25, helping them to improve their employability and allowing them to participate fully in the labour market.

Mr. Baker: Can the Minister tell the House how young people who have been excluded from benefit for periods of up to two or four weeks and who are unable to find employment are expected to live during that time?

Mr. Bradley: Our priority is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to take up one of the four options available in the new deal. The arrangements will ensure that every support and opportunity is given to young people to take up one of the options. We shall pursue that with the Employment Service at that time to ensure that those opportunities are available to all 18 to 25-year-olds.

Mr. Quentin Davies: Can the Minister give an absolutely clear account to the House of how the additional £200 million welfare-to-work moneys will be spent--how much on the 18 to 25 programme, how much on the raising of the earnings disregard, how much on training child minders? There is considerable suspicion in many quarters that the Secretary of State for Social Security has already spent the available £200 million several times over.

Mr. Bradley: The hon. Gentleman may be muddled in his figures. The £200 million relates solely to lone parents and the help and support that they will be given. They will be given support by personal advisers, who will consider possibilities and career prospects for them. That money will help with child care, which is essential if lone mothers are to return to work, and all the other arrangements that will be necessary. The £200 million is in the first phase of our roll-out programme to help lone parents to get back to work.


22. Mr. Quinn: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if she will make a statement on the availability of value-for-money pensions for those on low income.[9050]

Mr. Denham: Occupational schemes provide good-quality second pensions for half of all employees, but some personal pensions can be poor value for those on low incomes and with intermittent patterns of work. As part of our pensions review, we will consult widely on how best to take forward our proposals for stakeholder pensions to ensure that those without good-quality occupational pension schemes have access to secure, flexible, value-for-money second pensions.

Mr. Quinn: Does my hon. Friend agree that what the people of Scarborough, Whitby and the nation need is

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a flexible second pension, which will mean that they need not rely on a means-tested pension when they reach old age, and that they can have a proper standard of living and afford a proper existence in retirement?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is right. His constituents and many other people throughout the country want an end to the situation whereby, if they join a pension scheme for a few years and then have to leave work, a high proportion--in some cases 50 per cent. or more--of their savings can be eaten up by fees and charges and is not available to provide a pension when they retire. If that happens, they are likely to be in poverty on retirement and the state is likely to have to meet, through means-tested benefits, the cost of providing them with a basic level of financial support. That is why I believe that our proposals are so important and long overdue.

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