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21 Oct 2002 : Column 109Wcontinued
Mrs. Lawrence: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to help unemployed people for whom transport difficulties are an obstacle to getting back to work. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: We recognise that the cost and availability of transport can be a barrier to work for unemployed people and have measures in place to help jobseekers overcome such difficulties and move into work.
Jobseekers can receive help with the costs of travelling to job interviews through the Travel to Interview Scheme. Last year, the scheme helped nearly 40,000
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people attend interviews. In my hon. Friend's constituency, following a survey of local people, Jobcentre Plus and the Local Authority will be setting up a working group, involving the bus companies and local MPs, to improve the bus links for people who are in work or looking for work.
New Deal participants can also receive help to meet the costs of travelling to their work or training placement. Through an agreement between Jobcentre Plus and the Association of Train Operating Companies, New Deal clients can receive a reduction in the cost of rail travel. Similar agreements exist with other transport providers at regional and local level. In the Jobcentre Plus District serving my hon. Friend's constituency, this has led to the availability of reduced fares with 9 public service operators, including First Cymru.
The Adviser Discretion Fund, which we introduced in July 2001, allows New Deal Personal Advisers to spend up to #300 to help individuals overcome barriers to work, including transport problems. The help provided can include, for example, paying for travel passes or helping with the cost of taxing a car. Up to May 2002, well over 120,000 awards has been made from the Fund.
Employment Zones and Action Teams for Jobs are also helping overcome transport difficulties, for example, by giving grants to clients for the purchase of scooters, bicycles or other vehicles to help them get to work. They can also help with the cost of taxing or insuring vehicles. In addition, they have helped to set up and subsidise bus routes to take jobless people to areas where work is available and run car lease schemes.
To build on this success, in April we launched the Transport Projects Fund, worth #5 million a year. Action Teams can bid for additional money from the Fund to support innovative transport projects that will benefit the local community.
Mr. Allen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what contribution his Department has made to employment in Nottingham North since 1997. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Since 1997 the employment rate in Nottingham North has risen by 8.2 percentage points and the number of unemployed claimants has fallen by 31 per cent. Long term unemployment (12 months and over) has fallen by over 60 per cent. and the number of young people unemployed for 6 months or more is down by 70 per cent.
Building on the foundation of a strong and stable economy, the New Deals have helped nearly three-quarters of a million people in all parts of the country move off benefit and into work, including 1,700 people in my hon. Friend's constituency. An Action Team for Jobs and, Progress2Work and Ambition: construction initiatives are also operating in Nottingham North, providing further help and support to people moving from welfare to work.
Paul Clark: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what help he will give to offenders to find work as part of the resettlement process. 
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Malcolm Wicks: We offer ex-offenders a wide range of help to move into work, including early access to employment programmes such as New Deal and Work Based Learning for Adults. Last autumn we also introduced Freshstart, a #3 million initiative to improve the links between prisons and Jobcentres and ease the transition from custody into work.
Earlier this year we introduced progress2work to offer individually tailored specialist support to help people find work or improve their prospects of doing so. The first stage of progress2work focused on unemployed people who are recovering from drug problems. Ex-prisoners referred by drug counselling teams are a priority target group for progress2work. Later this month we will begin piloting the extension of the progress2work approach to other groups facing particularly difficult barriers to work. This will include all ex-offenders.
David Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what measures he is taking to prevent fraudulent claims of incapacity benefit. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: We are continuing to work hard to prevent fraud and error before it happens, to detect it when it does occur and to change public attitudes by showing that fraud is not a victimless crime. We are also taking further steps to tackle those who commit fraud, through new powers available under the Fraud Act.
Our last review of incapacity benefits in 2000 estimated that fraud accounted for less than 1 per cent. of benefit spend.
Phil Sawford: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many people in the Kettering constituency are entitled to a stakeholder pension. 
Mr. McCartney: Anyone who meets the Inland Revenue requirements is eligible for a stakeholder pension. The main requirement is to be a UK resident under the age of 75 who is ordinarily resident in the UK. Those who are members of an employer's occupational pension scheme can also join a stakeholder pension scheme if they do not earn more than #30,000 a year and are not a controlling director. Stakeholder pensions mean that everyone now has access to a good value pension arrangement. Figures from the Association of British Insurers show that nationally 1,011,934 stakeholder pensions had been sold by the end of June 2002 and 330,296 employers have given their workforces access to a stakeholder pension through designating a stakeholder scheme.
Stakeholder pensions are helping to increase the size of the overall pensions market. They have driven down charges on other types of personal pension. Some employers have widened access to their occupational pension schemes and other employers have set up group personal pensions with an employer contribution.
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Andy Burnham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of customer reaction to Jobcentre Plus. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The first 56 integrated Jobcentre Plus offices are now open and we will extend that network to cover the whole of Great Britain over the next four years.
Research carried out as part of the early evaluation of the new Pathfinder offices indicates that first reactions from both individual customers and employers have been overwhelmingly positive. We plan to publish these results shortly.
Jobcentre Plus will also be undertaking a National Customer Satisfaction Survey at the end of this year and will be publishing the findings in the spring of 2003.
Siobhain McDonagh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will encourage Jobcentre Plus to work in partnership with local voluntary sector organisations. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Working in partnership is fundamental to the success of Jobcentre Plus. We recognise that working in partnership at national, regional and local level offers opportunities to harness the diverse skills and experiences that many other organisations have to offer. Not only will this help to provide a comprehensive service both to jobseekers and employers but it also helps our many partners to meet their own objectives.
In particular, we support, and will continue to encourage, closer working with local service providers and voluntary organisations through Local Strategic Partnerships and in a wide variety of other bodies.
Mr. Plaskitt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the range of personal advice available to users of Jobcentre Plus. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: With the introduction of Jobcentre Plus we are delivering a single, integrated service to all benefit claimants of working age.
Jobcentre Plus provides a full range of advice on employment and training opportunities combined with comprehensive benefit advice. This advice is tailored to the individual needs of the people using the service and will help them to move from welfare to work whilst ensuring they have the support they need whilst doing so.
56 Jobcentre Plus pathfinder offices are already providing the fully integrated and work-focused service which we will extend progressively to cover the whole of Great Britain over the next four years. As part of this upgrade to the service, everyone of working age who is making a new or repeat claim for benefit in these offices will participate in a work-focused interview with a Personal Adviser and be offered their continuing support.
Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assistance is provided by Jobcentre Plus in cases of large scale redundancies. 
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Mr. Nicholas Brown: In April we launched the Rapid Response Service. The Rapid Response Service works in co-operation with representatives of employees, employers and the local community to co-ordinate a response to redundancies that helps everyone affected and is tailored to their needs.
The Rapid Response Service offers a range of information, advice, training and other help so that those people made redundant can move quickly back into work. Since its launch the Rapid Response Service has provided support to 158 companies and made its services available to over 50,000 people.
Richard Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what progress is being made to extend Jobcentre Plus across the UK. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: We are progressively extending the new integrated Jobcentre Plus office network across Great Britain over the next four years. By April 2003 we aim to introduce Jobcentre Plus services in over 200 more sites across 25 of our 90 Districts. A list of those Districts is available in the Library.
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