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24. Miss Kirkbride: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the number of pensioners still affected by the NIRS2 computer problems. [102954]

Mr. Rooker: It is estimated that currently there are up to 83,000 pensioners who are still affected by current and past NIRS2 computer problems. The Benefits Agency anticipates that this backlog will be cleared during the course of 2000.

New Deal (Lone Parents)

26. Fiona Mactaggart: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what progress has been made with the New Deal for Lone Parents; and if he will make a statement. [102956]

Angela Eagle: The New Deal for Lone Parents is providing active support to help lone parents move into work. In the first year of the national programme over 104,000 lone parents have attended interviews; 89 per cent. of these have agreed to participate in the

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programme; and over 28,000 lone parents have obtained jobs. In his pre-Budget report the Chancellor announced a package of improvements to the programme to build on the success of NDLP so far.

Computer Systems (Benefits)

27. Mr. Brazier: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to unify his Department's computer system for benefit payments with that of the Inland Revenue. [102957]

Mr. Rooker: There are no plans to unify the Department's computer systems with those of the Inland Revenue. However, this Department, the Inland Revenue, the Department for Education and Employment and local authorities are working together to ensure that joined-up client-focused welfare services can be offered to all.

Millennium Compliance

28. Mr. Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if his Department experienced computer problems at the start of the new millennium. [102958]

Angela Eagle: There was only one minor incident across the whole range of the Department's 33 main computer systems, after the Millennium Date Change. This problem, which affected the transfer of certain specific Social Fund cases between offices, has since been fixed. Two of the Department's 783 administrative support systems had problems, which have also been fixed. This outcome follows the Department's substantial work to prepare for this event.

Pension Provision

30. Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps have been taken by the Government to promote personal provision of pensions. [102960]

Mr. Rooker: We published a Green Paper in December 1998, setting out our proposals for pension reform. Our proposals will help everyone build up a decent second pension. The reformed system will ensure that all those who can save for a second pension will be able to do so.

For people who have access to them, occupational pensions remain the best option; we have already implemented some of the measures we proposed to strengthen and support occupational pension schemes in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. Further measures are in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill currently before Parliament.

The new stakeholder pensions will be a secure, flexible, and value for money way to help up to 5 million people who do not have access to an occupational pension and for whom personal pensions can be unsuitable to save for their retirement. Stakeholder Pensions will be designed to help those on middle incomes--around £9,000-£20,000 a year--but will benefit those on higher incomes as well. The legislation to put in place the basic framework for stakeholder pension schemes is included in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. We are continuing to consult on key areas of detail which will be set out in secondary legislation and we expect to publish draft Regulations shortly.

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We are reforming the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme through the introduction of the State Second Pension. This will give a dramatic boost to the pensions of low earners, carers and some long-term disabled people. Legislation is included in the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Bill.

We are also improving the quality of general and personal information on pensions. We are working in partnership with employers and the pensions industry to provide annual combined pension forecasts of current and projected state and private pension rights. A combined statement will give individuals a clearer indication of what sort of retirement income they might expect and enable them to make informed decisions about the level of savings they need to make.

In June 1998, we also published a series of pensions information leaflets. These provide concise and accessible information in plain English about the pensions choices available to individuals. The leaflets relate to decisions individuals need to take at various life stages. The leaflets met the Plain English Campaign Crystal Mark standard and have been awarded the Money Management Council Quality Mark for providing clear and unbiased information on money matters. The leaflets have been promoted through marketing activity. The Financial Services Authority also provide more detailed information on certain financial issues, which complements the Departmental leaflets.

Disability Living Allowance

(Mobility Component)

31. Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how many people have lost the mobility component of their disability benefit in each of the past two years. [102961]

Mr. Bayley: 114,400 awards of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance stopped in 1997-98, and 129,900 in 1998-99. These figures are equivalent to around 7 per cent. of recipients. Awards stop in various circumstances, for example when recipients die, go to live abroad permanently, or experience a significant improvement in their ability to get around.

Pensioners Benefits

32. Mr. Blizzard: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what plans he has to help pensioners with small second incomes who do not qualify for benefits. [102962]

Mr. Rooker: During our process of modernising and reforming welfare, we will consider all the components that make up the benefit system with a view to ensuring that the least well-off pensioners share in the rising national prosperity.


33. Mr. Jack: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement indicating which of his anti-fraud targets he is likely (a) to meet and (b) not to meet by the end of the current financial year. [102963]

Mr. Rooker: As published in the Public Service Agreement, for the first time we have set a single outcome target to reduce fraud and error in the two major benefits,

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Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance, by 30 per cent. by March 2007, with at least a 10 per cent. reduction by March 2002.

State Pension Uprating

34. Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the April 2000 uprating of the state pension. [102964]

Mr. Rooker: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement on new rates of benefit, including State Retirement Pension, to apply from next April in a Written Answer on 9 November 1999, Official Report, columns 564-78W.

Child Poverty

35. Mr. Lidington: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the level of child poverty in Britain. [102965]

Mr. Bayley: Far too many children's lives are blighted by poverty and social exclusion. That is why the Prime Minister has made it our aim to eradicate child poverty in the next 20 years.

Disablement Benefits

36. Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he is taking to improve the quality of medical assessments as part of integrating testing for disablement benefits. [102966]

Mr. Bayley: The qualifying criteria for the various benefits for sick and disabled people vary and may need to be assessed separately on different occasions. The development of an integrated medical assessment would be complex and there are no immediate plans to introduce such an assessment.

The issue of the quality of medical assessments in general is, however, taken very seriously. Standards relating to experience, qualifications and training are set out in the Benefits Agency's contract with the SEMA Group, which provides medical services. The work of all doctors is also subject to regular audit against nationally determined standards which are agreed by the Department's Chief Medical Adviser.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will estimate the total spending on housing benefit (a) in 1996-97 adjusted for inflation and (b) projected for 1999-2000. [102942]

Angela Eagle: Housing benefit expenditure is expected to fall from £12 billion in 1996-97 to £11.2 billion in 1999-2000 in real terms.

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