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Personal Advice (Job Centres)

8. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): What plans he has to increase the amount of personal advice available to unemployed people at job centres. [28146]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown): The Employment Service and those parts of the Benefits Agency that deal with people of working age are being brought together to form Jobcentre Plus. Some56 Jobcentre Plus pathfinder offices have now opened, providing for the first time a fully integrated employment and benefit service. Reactions from individual customers and employers have been overwhelmingly positive. There will be a significant further roll-out of Jobcentre Plus across Great Britain from April this year.

Mr. Hoyle: I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer, but what extra help and support can be given to those people with disabilities or to carers who wish to go to work? I wonder what we can do.

Mr. Brown: There is a full range of services in the Jobcentre Plus network, and provided by the Department more generally, for those with disabilities and those who care for them. We find that carers tend to worry about their own prospects in the job market, as well as their responsibilities as carers. Very few of them are available for full-time work, but many are interested in part-time work. We also know from survey evidence that about1 million of those who currently receive incapacity benefit, and, in some cases, disability living allowance, would like to work if they had the opportunity to do so. The purpose of the new, new deal for the disabled, which is being piloted, is to try to help those who are disadvantaged in the labour market into the jobs that, with a bit of help and support, they can get.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): What advice would those in jobcentres give to people such as Mr. Stephen Cann—one of my constituents—and a group of other long-term unemployed people from south-west London, who, having been expensively trained by the Minister's Department for 18 months as driving instructors, suddenly found a few weeks before the test that his Department had arbitrarily abandoned the course? In view of the

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information that I have given him, will he agree to investigate what seems to be a serious abuse of public money and a waste of people's lives?

Mr. Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing the case to my attention. However, for the sake of completeness, I should point out that he did so at1.15 pm today. I am willing to consider the individual case, but it is very much the exception and not the rule. I will do what I can to help his constituents, because it is not the Government's intention that people should be left unable to complete their course because of a withdrawal of the project that was facilitating it.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): My right hon. Friend will recall from his visit to the Jobcentre Plus in my constituency that it continues to provide an excellent service despite the fact that industrial action has gone on continuously since last September. Although I accept that there is undoubtedly a political element to the industrial action, does he agree that some of the people on strike have genuine and sincere fears for their safety as they administer the new system? Will he give an assurance and a guarantee that, as Jobcentre Plus is rolled out across the country, instances of misconduct and so on will be closely monitored and that the provisions, such as new security guards and closed circuit television, that have rightly been put in place to replace screens will ensure that those fears are ungrounded?

Mr. Brown: I regret the strike very much. The people who are on strike are our employees and they help to deliver public services. I would very much prefer for us all to work together for a common purpose. That common purpose must be the modified, modernised and unified service that we are providing through Jobcentre Plus. It is the Government's intention to roll out the Jobcentre Plus model right across the country and to maintain the very high standards that we had in place for the pilot schemes. Moreover, early evidence from the Jobcentre Plus premises is that open planning, the ability to make appointments and the modern and proactive way of working are welcomed by clients and have reduced the number of incidents that take place on the premises.

Although it is early days, Jobcentre Plus is turning out to be a stunning success for all those reasons. I urge those Members who have not yet visited a Jobcentre Plus premises to make such a visit so that they can see the differences and changes that we have made by investing public money and so that they understand what we are trying to do. It is not the old service with the screens down, as some allege, but a brand-new service and brand-new way of working in brand-new premises.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Is the Minister aware that, in my constituency of Wycombe, there is evidence to suggest that personal advisers have only an hour a week in which to follow up the cases of individual clients? Does he think that that is good enough? If not, what does he propose to do about it?

Mr. Brown: The Government are strongly committed to proactive working with jobseekers. If the hon. Gentleman sends me his evidence about the amount of time that caseworkers can spend on individual cases, I will be happy to consider it. However, I have no evidence

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to suggest that not enough time is being allowed to deliver the service in the modern way that the Government have set out.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): I hope that the Government will be supported in these and similar policies. Does my right hon. Friend accept that, in a significant number of areas around the country, there simply are not enough jobs for the people who want to work?

Mr. Brown: There are localised difficulties in some parts of the country, mainly in those constituencies, such as my right hon. Friend's and mine, that were over-reliant on single industries. Of course, we realise that those communities face special problems, but none of that detracts from the generality of the Government's approach, which is that the jobs are out there and that, by proactive work, we can get the people into them. About6 million of our fellow citizens changed jobs last year and we know of a third of a million job vacancies in the United Kingdom economy today. The jobs are there; we need to help people into them.

My right hon. Friend is right to point to the difficulties faced in industrial communities that were over-reliant on jobs that were mostly in heavy industry. However, citing local difficulties does not detract from the Government's general approach which has, after all, seen record numbers of people in employment.

Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill

9. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): What assessment he has made of the impact the enactment of the Relationships (Civil Registration) Bill would have upon the work of his Department; and if he will make a statement. [28147]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): The Department is participating in work across Government to review the Bill's implications. This work has just started and therefore we are not yet in a position to reach a judgment.

Jane Griffiths: I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. He will know that some 88 per cent. of pension schemes in the private sector make provision for unmarried partners. He will also know that in the House last year, hon. Members voted to provide that protection in our households, should we wish it. Does he agree that the continuing deliberations in his Department should take into account the fact that to seek to deny to public sector workers what we have awarded to ourselves is nothing short of bad faith?

Malcolm Wicks: Occupational pension schemes need to make their own judgments and examine the cost implications of those. Our review has only just started. It is important that we think the matter through carefully in terms of trends and many other issues. As I said, we are not yet able to reach a judgment, but the review is ongoing.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Given the new research from the Office for National Statistics, which shows that children of married couples are half as likely to see their parents separate as children of cohabiting couples, and given that the report on the costs of family breakdown for the Lords and Commons family

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and child protection group conservatively estimates the costs of family breakdown—not least to the Minister's Department—to be about £15 billion a year, will the Minister be circumspect about the registration of civil relationships, not least because the country is unlikely to be able to afford it?

Malcolm Wicks: Before entering the House, I spent10 years at the Family Policy Studies Centre examining such issues. I understand that children from all sorts of family backgrounds are often the victims of the revolution that has affected family life in this country and many others. I do not think that the issues are directly relevant to the review that we are undertaking, on which we shall deliver a judgment when we can.

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