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Benefit Fraud

38. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures he is taking to prevent fraudulent claims of unemployment benefits. [55526]

Malcolm Wicks: Our strategy for combating benefit fraud focuses on getting it right, keeping it right and putting it right: making correct benefit payments in the first place; ensuring payments are adjusted as circumstances change and detecting when payments go wrong and taking prompt action to correct them with appropriate penalties to prevent a recurrence.

As part of getting it right, front-line staff have been made more aware of the risk of fraud and encouraged to take responsibility for ensuring that claims are correct at the gateway.

Jobcentre Plus will provide a more comprehensive and integrated service for all benefit claimants. One-to-one interviews will create a personal environment where the full and accurate details of a claim can be established and customers can be reminded of their responsibility to notify us of changes to their circumstances.

From last month, new powers in the Fraud Act 2001 became available for putting it right, by making it easier to catch fraudsters and give greater punishments to those who persistently abuse the system. Benefit fraud investigators can now require organisations like banks, insurance companies and utility companies to provide information about customers where fraud is suspected. Under the "two strikes" provisions, a person convicted of one or more benefit offences in two separate sets of proceedings within a three-year period may be disqualified from receiving benefit.

We know that our strategy is working. By March last year we had reduced fraud and error in income support and jobseeker's allowance by 18 per cent.—nearly double our first milestone of a 10 per cent. reduction, a year ahead of schedule.

Work-related Illnesses

Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many claims for work-related illness were settled by his Department in the last year for which records are available; and what the cost was in compensation; [56090]

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many days of sick leave were taken in his Department last year; how many related to employees suffering (a) stress and (b) other mental health problems; and what the cost was to his Department. [56487]

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Mr. McCartney: The information requested is not held and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. Such information as is available can be found in "Cabinet Office—Analysis of Sickness Absence in the Civil Service—calendar year 2000", which is available in the Library.


Mr. Clapham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what advice he has received from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council on the question of dual diagnosis in mesothelioma cases. [56093]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: From March 2002, the Department's Chief Medical Adviser has advised Medical Services doctors that the diagnosis and assessment of mesothelioma should, in the majority of cases, be based solely on the documentary evidence of the sufferer's consultant. This change in procedure was not referred formally to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council for advice. However, the council has given its full support to the change.

Retirement Income

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will set out the basis for the estimate in the Pensions Green Paper of the proportions of retirement income coming from state and from private sources; and what his latest estimate is of those proportions. [57511]

Mr. McCartney: The 1998 Green Paper contained estimates of the proportions of retirement income coming from the state and private sources for the year 1998 and also projections of the same proportions for the future years, 2025 and 2050.

The estimates of the proportions for 1998 were made by using data from the Government Actuary's Department (GAD) and DWP data on state spending on pensioners and Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates of the size of private pensions in payment.

The projections of the proportions for future years were made using GAD projected expenditure for national insurance benefits, i.e. the basic state pension and state second pension, and DWP projections of income-related benefits. The projections for income from private sources were based on figures from ONS for current pensions in payment. These were uprated by PENSIM estimates of the growth in private pensions in payment until 2025 and then by estimates of GDP growth thereafter. PENSIM estimates are based on data from three different surveys conducted in 1988. These were the Social Change and Economic Life Initiative, the Retirement Survey and the Family Expenditure Survey.

Since the 1998 projections were made, private pension income has increased and we remain committed to promoting saving for retirement. The introduction of secure, value for money stakeholder pensions last year and other measures we are taking mean that we are on track to achieve this.

We do not have more recent projections for future years because, as highlighted in the Performance and Innovation Report on modelling in Government Adding it Up (2000)

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there are numerous problems with PENSIM. Therefore, the Department is currently developing an entirely new dynamic micro-simulation model, Pensim2.

Mr. David Stewart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent research he has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the retirement incomes of women who are married compared to the retirement incomes of women who are cohabiting; and if he will make a statement on the equal treatment implications of the research. [55326]

Mr. McCartney [holding answer 10 May 2002]: There are a number of studies that seek to compare pensioners' incomes. These include the Pensioners' Income Series (1999–2000) which is produced by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Cabinet Office's Individual Income (1996–97 to 1999–2000). Both draw on data from the Family Resources Survey.

Tables 4.2 to 4.4. of the latter contain data on weekly individual income by marital status and family type for all women. The sample size is not sufficient to enable comparison of the incomes of married women who are in a pensioner couple with the incomes of cohabiting women in a pensioner couple.

Beyond this, we have not commissioned any specific research to compare the incomes of women that are married against those that are cohabiting.


Mr. Joyce: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps he is taking to improve the physical environment of jobcentres. [55496]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: The first 56 Jobcentre Plus pathfinder offices, which are already open, embody an entirely new physical environment. They are predominantly open plan, with substantially improved facilities and technology, providing a much more accessible and personalised service for customers.

We intend to extend this environment progressively to cover the whole of Great Britain over the next four years, starting with a further 225 offices in 2002–03.

33. Vera Baird: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to increase the level of personal advice available to unemployed people at jobcentres. [55521]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: Jobcentres now form part of the newly established Jobcentre Plus agency. Jobcentre Plus was launched as a national organisation on 1 April, replacing the Employment Service and the working age functions of the Benefits Agency, and providing services to around five million people. Jobcentre Plus aims to deliver further improvements in customer service throughout its entire network of jobcentres and social security offices.

56 Jobcentre Plus pathfinder offices are already providing the integrated and work-focused service which we will, over time, offer right across the country. We plan to open around 225 more integrated offices by April 2003. As part of this upgrade to the service, everyone of working age who is making a new or repeat claim for

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benefit in these offices will participate in a work-focused interview with a personal adviser and be offered their continuing support.

Social Fund (Funerals)

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how much has been spent on contributions towards funeral costs from the social fund in each of the past five years; what was the average payment; and how much it would cost to reimburse clergymen for the fees in addition to other current costs; [44090]

Malcolm Wicks: The numbers of social fund funeral payments awarded, annual expenditure and the average payments for the last five years are in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's Annual Reports on the Social Fund 1996–97 to 2000–01. Copies of the reports are in the Library.

Information on the number of awards recovered is not held, but the amounts recovered each year are also in the reports.

Funeral payments cover the cost of specified items, which include the fees levied by the burial authorities and crematoria, where payable. In addition, £600 is available for the person arranging the funeral to select any extra items or services they consider appropriate. Not everyone uses or has to pay for the services of a minister of religion. However, any fee or donation in respect of such services may be met from within this additional £600. We have no estimate of how much it would cost to reimburse clergymen for their fees.

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