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The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): Good evening, Mr. Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) on securing a debate on inner-city poverty. I am also grateful for his kind comments on the Government's initiatives to tackle child and pensioner poverty, and the general poverty of those of working age. This debate is a unique experience, because I see in their places my hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons), for Hamilton, South (Mr. Tynan), for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy), for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin), for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) and your good self, Mr. Speaker, representing your beloved Springburn. My accent tends to give away my previous incarnation and even my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) can claim that his mother was born in Cathcart. He just failed to get across the border and was born in Carlisle. My only question is where is the Scottish National party? We are debating strategies to end poverty in Scotland and the SNP is not even here.
We are absolutely committed to eradicating child poverty by 2020. Our strategy is outlined in "Opportunity for all", the annual report that sets out our progress. Significant progress has been made, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland made clear, much more remains to be done. There is a clear political commitment to tackling the problems of poverty and social exclusion. Poverty and social exclusion are complex, multidimensional issues and are not just about low income. My hon. Friend highlighted that point eloquently in his contribution this evening.
We are determined to ensure that there is opportunity for all, not just the privileged few. Tackling poverty is not just a social objective or a moral issue. It is also an economic necessity, because we all pay the price of poverty. Research shows that work is the best route out of poverty. Our strategy is to provide work for those who can and security for those who cannot. We are making real progress. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's speech and to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok and I am very interested in the initiatives they described. I give my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland a commitment that I will arrange for officials from Glasgow city council and from the Scottish Executive to meet officials from my Department to explore these proposals further. I will write to him when I have made those arrangements, which I hope to do shortly so that we can take forward the ideas that he set out tonight.
It is clear that the measures that we have already introduced are having positive effects on people's lives. We will continue to work to improve the opportunities available to all people looking for work. Today, as a result of a stable economy and measures to help people into jobs, some 300,000 fewer children live in a household where no one works. We are introducing new tax credits to tackle poverty and make work pay.
There are more than 1.2 million more people in work now than in 1997. We have increased the household incomes of 2 million of the poorest pensioners by at least £15 a week since 1997. We are tackling the legacy of
Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden): Will my right hon. Friend accept that the national minimum wage, presently £4.10, has played a constructive part not only in bringing people from unemployment to work, but in giving them some security when they take up work? We should try to uprate it regularly because that would make it more attractive for people to take up work.
Mr. McCartney: As the Minister who introduced the national minimum wage, I am more than happy to endorse my hon. Friend's observation that, together with the working families tax credit and the changes in child benefit, the national minimum wage has made a significant difference. Women in my constituency were earning £1.20 an hour; after the introduction of the minimum wage and the WFTC they now have incomes of £11 an hour and four weeks' paid holiday. The minimum wage has risen consistently since its introduction, following the recommendations from the Low Pay Commission. We have also given the lie to the Tory claim that its introduction would cost a million jobs. Since its introduction, we have created more than a million jobs.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks and I will tell my father tonight that his Member of Parliament is doing a damn good job for himalthough at 82 I am not sure that he wants to go out and earn the national minimum wage.
Colleagues, we have set clear objectives that require long-term commitment to year-on-year investment. They need more than just a short-term investment. For people of working age, we are rebuilding the welfare state around work, for both individuals and families. As I said earlier, paid work is the best form of welfare. It is the most secure means of averting poverty and dependence.
Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is right. From bitter personal experience, I know that the drug culture in Scotland damages communities and families, and that it tragically destroys many young people's lives. Across Britain, 3,000 young people a year die from drug abuse. To destroy that culture, there must be action in the community against the criminal. That action must involve young people and investment in treatment and rehabilitation. Part of the rehabilitation culture must be the introduction of young people to education, training and employment opportunities.
The drugs problem is prevalent in the east end of Glasgow, where initiatives have been set up similar to those in other parts of Glasgow described by hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, South in that regard.
Our approach works on two frontsmaking it easier to move into work, and ensuring that work pays. One of the problems facing people moving into work is the gap between their final benefit payment and their first pay cheque. That is why we have introduced initiatives to ease this transition. Examples of that are the simplification of the housing and council tax benefit of the mortgage interest run-on, the lone parent's benefit run-on and the job grant.
We have introduced a number of measures to ensure that when people take up work, that work pays. Mention has been made of the working families tax credit and the national minimum wage. The House may want to know that, since the working families tax credit was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, 120,000 families in Scotland have benefited. Moreover, 110,000 families in Scotland are benefiting from the national minimum wage. The combination of both those innovations means that no family with one person working full-time earns less than about £11,000 a year. That is a major step forward.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland pointed out, the Government have had great success with reducing unemployment. Since 1997, we have reduced long-term unemployment by more than 50 per cent. in Glasgow in general, and in the Anniesland constituency in particular.
We are constantly improving these new deals to help clients to match their current skills to vacancies in the labour market. New deals also help clients to gain new skills through education and training to meet the needs of local employers.
As we announced in November, we will soon be launching our pilots for our new StepUp programmes. In April, a pilot will start in east Ayrshire and another pilot will begin later in Edinburgh. These pilots will test out the provision of transitional jobs to act as a stepping stone for long-term unemployed people moving from benefits into work. In his speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Anniesland asked the Government to consider that matter specifically.
We have also introduced employment zones to help long-term unemployed people in some of the most deprived areas. Employment zones are looking at innovative ways to find local solutions to local problems. The employment zone in Glasgow works with local organisations such as the Wise group, and has already helped nearly 2,000 people find work.
I also agree with my hon. Friend that our focus needs to be wider than just those traditionally classed as unemployed. We must look to help more jobless people who would like to move into the labour market. We have launched 56 pathfinder offices for our new service, Jobcentre Plus, and their locations include Aberdeen, Livingston, Greenock and Port Glasgow. The offices will be rolled out over the next few years across the whole of Scotland.
This new service will give all benefit claimants the opportunity to find out about the help and support available to them if they move into work through work-focused interviews. Lone parents whose youngest child is of school age already benefit from having a work-focused interview at the start of their claim for income support. From April, these interviews will be extended to lone parents whose youngest child is three years old or older.
All lone parents who are out of work can benefit from our new deal for lone parents. This offers specialist help and advice to enable them to take up work. By the end of October, we had already helped more than 2,200 lone parents in Glasgow, and in Anniesland nearly 300 lone parents have been assisted in taking up employment.
Specialist help is also available for people on incapacity benefit through our new deal for disabled people. During the pilot phase, more than 8,200 people have been helped into work. In the summer, we launched a national network of job brokers who work with people on incapacity benefit to help them access the labour market.
These national programmes are complemented by our action teams for jobs. The teams work with local organisations to find innovative solutions to problems faced by people from disadvantaged groups such as those with disabilities, lone parents, homeless people and people with drug or alcohol problems. The action team in Glasgow was so successful at the start of this year that the team has been split into four and their collective budget has been increased by more than 700 per cent. to one in excess of £3.5 million.
That demonstrates our clear and specific strategy on employment. It works alongside initiatives taken by Glasgow and the communities there to develop self-help and a co-ordinated approach between central Government, local government and the community to the regeneration and refurbishment of communities for individual families and the community as a whole.
In his opening remarks, my hon. Friend alluded to the need for the Government to end pensioner poverty and design new systems to end it. He is absolutely right. Our pension strategy is simple: we want to ensure that all pensioners have a decent income in retirement. That is why it was important to introduce the minimum income guarantee, rough and ready as it was. We have been the first Government for two generations to take a positive decision to target elderly people who were being left out of the basic pension system and, as a consequence, were living in poverty. From a standing start, almost 2 million elderly people now receive on average between £15 and £20 a week that would never have been available to them had we not taken action. However, that was a short-term action; to deal with poverty now, we must modernise a pensions system to prevent future pensioners from falling into poverty.
In their Lordships' House is the State Pension Credit Bill which will soon come before this House. The Bill is about modernising the whole basis and concept of the pensions system, so that it will ensure a minimum guaranteed income for all pensioners, irrespective of how they access the pensions system, as well as for millions of hard-working pensioners who, under the current system
In addition, we will take steps to assist people who work for employers have no form of pension savings. From a standing start, in the first seven months 80 per cent. of employers required to register for stakeholder pensions have registered. The big task is to turn those registrations into pension entitlements for many people who last year, before stakeholder pensions, had no pension opportunity. This year they have a pension opportunity.