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25 Nov 2002 : Column 15Wcontinued
31. Tony Cunningham : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the change in the level of unemployment in the Workington constituency has been since 1997. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: Economic stability and active labour market programmes have helped people move from welfare to work in all parts of the country. In my hon. Friend's constituency, claimant unemployment has halved since 1997 and long-term unemployment has fallen by nearly 80 per cent.
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32. Dr. Cable : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the protection awarded to final salary scheme pensioners when companies are wound up. 
Mr. McCartney: When a company and its final salary pension scheme are wound up, pensioners are protected by the 1995 Pensions Act and regulations. A statutory priority order ensures that, after additional voluntary contributions, pensions in payment are secured ahead of other benefits, so that those already in retirement continue to receive a pension.
The employer debt provisions place a debt on an insolvent company's estate that is calculated, in part, to bring a wound up scheme's assets up to a level sufficient to meet the notional costs of buying annuities for pensioners.
The independent trustee provisions require insolvency practitioners to make sure that schemes that are winding up have one trustee who is independent. Trustees are required to report their progress regularly to Opra.
33. Angus Robertson : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the impact of the introduction of the universal bank account scheme on pensioners living in rural communities. 
Malcolm Wicks: The introduction of universal banking services (which consists of two elements: access to basic bank accounts and the Post Office card account) will help ensure that all customers, including pensioners living in rural areas, can continue to access their benefits in cash at the Post Office. It will also provide customers with a wider range of accounts that they can choose to have their benefit or pension paid into. Universal banking services is an innovative idea that will also help to broaden the Post Office's customer base and open up new sources of income.
36. Huw Irranca-Davies: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the impact of the Action for Jobs programme. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The 63 Action Teams for Jobs are having a positive impact on the lives of disadvantaged people in the most economically deprived areas of the country.
By the end of September this year they had helped over 50,000 jobless people into work. An evaluation study of the first year of the initiative found that 80 per cent. of people who found jobs through Action Teams moved into sustained jobs.
The Action Team which operates in my hon. Friend's constituency has been very successful, helping almost 1,000 people move into jobs.
We are building on Action Teams' success. Earlier this year we introduced the Employment Projects and Transport Projects Funds, worth £2 million and
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£5 million a year respectively. Teams can bid for additional money from these funds to support initiatives that will benefit their local communities.
37. Mr. Chope : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement about the number of fatalities in the construction industry in the last year for which figures are available. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The number of fatal injuries to construction workers dropped to 79 in the period from April 2001 to March 2002 from 105 in the previous year, a 25 per cent. reduction.
38. Mr. Kidney: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he is taking to end age discrimination in employers' recruitment practices. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: We have made a pledge to tackle age discrimination and we are committed to introducing age legislation covering employment, vocational training and guidance by 2006.
We are already encouraging employers to adopt non-ageist employment practices through our Age Positive Campaign. The campaign raises employers' awareness of the business benefits of an age diverse workforce and encourages a flexible approach to retirement to open up choice and opportunity for individuals to stay in work longer.
In 1999 we published the Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment which sets out the standards for non-ageist approaches to recruitment, training, promotion, redundancy and retirement. The code was developed with leading organisations including the CBI, TUC, the Employers Forum on Age and Age Concern. Evaluation shows that from 1999 to 2001 the number of companies using age in recruitment had already fallen from 27 per cent. to 13 per cent. and the number of companies having a policy against employing older workers had dropped from 14 per cent. to 7 per cent.
Older workers have a wealth of skills and experience that can benefit individual businesses and the economy as a whole. Our policies will help to improve further the employment rate of people over 50, which has risen considerably since 1997.
Mr. Viggers: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps the Government are taking to encourage each individual to plan for independence in retirement. 
Mr. Andrew Smith: The Government are providing pension information and advice, including the pension guide and pension forecasts, to help people make informed choices in planning for their retirement.
Mr. Bacon : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what targets the Government have set for increasing the proportion of pensioners' incomes that come from the state. 
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Maria Eagle: The Government are committed to combating poverty and promoting security and independence in retirement and we have a range of targets to support these objectives. As a result of our policies no pensioner need live on less than £98.15 a week, and for couples £149.80.
Mr. David: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to help unemployed people with travel-to-work arrangements. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: We recognise that the lack of affordable transport can be a significant barrier to work for jobless people, and have a number of measures in place to help them overcome these difficulties.
Earlier this month we announced the extension of half price rail fares to 125,000 more people on the New Deal programme, making it easier for them to get to job interviews and easier to get to work in the first few months of employment.
Phil Sawford: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the change has been in the level of unemployment in the Kettering constituency since May 1997. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown : Our policies have created a strong economy geared to delivering stability, low inflation and sound public finances. Alongside this, our labour market policies promote attachment to the job market, whatever the stage of the business cycle. In my hon. Friend's constituency, claimant unemployment has fallen by 40 per cent. since 1997 and long term unemployment has fallen by over 80 per cent.
Ross Cranston: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of recent unemployment statistics for the United Kingdom in comparison with other EU countries. 
Mr. Nicholas Brown: The Government's policies have created a strong economy geared to delivering stability, low inflation and sound public finances. Alongside this, our labour market policies promote attachment to the jobs market, whatever the stage of the business cycle.
As a result the number of people in work is at record levels and unemployment has fallen to levels not seen since the 1970s and has remained at these low levels for over a year.
We have the lowest unemployment rate of the G7 major industrialised countries and UK unemployment is below the average level in the EU and lower than the other major EU economies.
Mr. McCabe: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of user reaction to Jobcentre Plus. 
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Mr. Nicholas Brown: The first 66 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. First reactions from both individual customers and employers have been overwhelmingly positive.
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.
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