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16. Mr. Sarwar: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the timetable for payment of the winter fuel allowance. 
Mr. Rooker: Our aim is to make sure that this winter elderly people do not worry about turning up their heating in cold weather. As promised, the vast majority of payments were made to elderly households before Christmas.
32. Mr. Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what estimate he has made of the number of eligible pensioners whose Winter Fuel Payments in the current financial year (a) were delayed and (b) have not been paid. 
Mr. Rooker: As promised, for this winter the vast majority of Winter Fuel Payments were automatically made before Christmas to those found to be entitled.
For those who need to claim the payment, this will be paid once entitlement has been established.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what action he will take to ensure that people aged 60 years and over will be given prior notification of the £50 reduction in this year's Winter Fuel Payment. 
Mr. Rooker: The Winter Fuel Payment which the hon. Member opposes has proved to be extremely popular. We shall announce our proposals for this winter in due course.
Mr. Davidson: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security how much it would cost to extend the annual Winter Fuel Payments to those aged under 60 years who receive the middle or higher rates of Disability Living Allowance; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Rooker: The estimated cost of my hon. Friend's suggestion is £150 million, each year.
Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what is the (a) number and (b) percentage of (i) male and (ii) female pensioners that would be at a financial disadvantage if the winter fuel allowance and the free television licence for over-75-year-olds was consolidated in the State Pension. 
Mr. Rooker [holding answer 15 January 2001]: We estimate that at least 5.8 million (or 55 per cent. of) pensioners would be at a financial disadvantage. The figure breaks down to 2.2 million (or 56 per cent. of) men, and 3.6 million (or 54 per cent. of) women.
The 5.8 million includes 3.6 million poorer pensioners claiming one or more income-related benefits (Income Support, Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit).
Mr. Chaytor: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what the total cost of the Winter Fuel Payments scheme in 2000-01 will be; what would be the total additional costs of making these payments to all households eligible for Social Fund cold weather payments; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Rooker: The total cost of the Winter Fuel Payment scheme in 2000-01 is expected to be around £1.7 billion.
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The estimated additional costs of making this winter's payment to all households eligible for Social Fund Cold Weather Payments would be around £300 million.
19. Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement on the current level of poverty in Great Britain. 
Mr. Bayley: Our assessment of current levels of poverty is set out in our second annual "Opportunity for All" report, alongside the progress we are making. For example, there are now a million more people in jobs than in 1997.
Unemployment in Wiltshire has fallen by over 50 per cent. since May 1997 and long-term youth unemployment (six months plus) has fallen by over 80 per cent.
23. Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of poverty, low pay and other indices of deprivation in the eastern region; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Bayley: The national strategy to tackle poverty and social exclusion is outlined in the first and second "Opportunity for All" reports. A central part of that strategy is to focus in on communities and areas that require particular help.
25. Mr. Tynan: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he is taking to reduce fraud in the social security system. 
Mr. Rooker: After years of neglect, we are getting to grips with Social Security fraud. We have set ourselves firm targets to reduce the losses from fraud and error in Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance by 25 per cent. by March 2004, and 50 per cent. by March 2006.
We are implementing a strategy to tighten up the system and make sure that, from the very first claim, the right benefits are going to the right people at the right time. For example, we have implemented tighter checks on new Income Support claimants, and given local authorities an additional £100 million to help them make tougher identity checks on claimants before payments are made. We are also cross-checking DSS records with information from other Government Departments and have allowed all local councils to have access to electronic data from the Benefits Agency.
These are just some of the measures that have already started to make a significant reduction in fraud and error. These will be further strengthened by the new measures proposed in the Fraud Bill currently before Parliament.
Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if local authority employees in charge of Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit fraud investigations may investigate cases where there is suspicion of related Income Support and Jobseeker's Allowance fraud. 
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Mr. Rooker: We are working in partnership with local authorities in the prevention, detection and deterrence of benefit fraud. Suspected fraud cases in which Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit and Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance are in payment are investigated by whichever investigator, from the Department or the Local Authority, first discovers the fraud.
26. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he is taking to remind employers of their obligations to inform their employees about the new stakeholder pensions. 
Mr. Rooker: We have sent a guide to all employers with five or more employees and articles have been included in Inland Revenue newsletters which have been sent to all employers.
We will continue to publicise the requirements using further editions of the Inland Revenue newsletter and articles in various trade magazines.
In addition to our own activities, pension providers will be marketing stakeholder pensions to employers.
Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what representations he has received about the impact of the recent developments at Equitable Life on the take-up of stakeholder pensions; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Rooker: People are naturally concerned about the Equitable Life affair and have made representations about the effect that it might have on their pension savings.
We do not expect that there will be a significant effect on the take up of stakeholder pensions.
27. Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what support his Department is giving to help those with disabilities to return to work. 
Mr. Browne: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security if he will make a statement about his Department's involvement in the new deal for disabled people. 
Mr. Bayley: We are committed to helping disabled people who want to work, to do so. The New Deal for Disabled People is a joint initiative of the Department of Social Security and the Department for Education and Employment.
We are setting up a national network of Job Brokers to explore ways of giving those on incapacity benefits the support, guidance and preparation they need to find paid work and move off benefit dependence.
We are also starting job retention and rehabilitation pilots to help people who become ill in work. These pilots will test the effectiveness of early work-focused help, involving health, social security, employment and other services.
Mr. Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what assessment he has made of the opportunities available to disabled people who are in
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receipt of (a) Severe Disability Allowance, (b) Income Support and (c) both, to make appropriate provision for their retirement. 
Mr. Bayley: Up to now, disabled people whose working lives have been interrupted lose the opportunity to contribute to a pension scheme as well as the opportunity to work and are often therefore unable to build up a decent pension for retirement. That is one of the main reasons we are reforming the State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) with the State Second Pension.
People getting Severe Disablement Allowance, and those on Income Support with an underlying entitlement to long-term Incapacity Benefit, will be able to build up entitlement to State Second Pension provided at state pension age they have worked and paid (or have been treated as having paid) Class 1 employee National Insurance contributions for at least one tenth of their working life since 1978 (when SERPS was introduced).
Every qualifying year will be worth £1 a week additional pension at today's rates.
In addition, the majority of these people are likely to qualify for top-up payments through the Pension Credit, on which the Government are now consulting.
Those disabled people unable to qualify for State Second Pension may benefit from the Minimum Income Guarantee from age 60.
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