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7 Jan 2003 : Column 168W—continued

Social Exclusion

Mr. Mullin: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what discussions he has had with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on the use of public procurement contracts to reduce social exclusion; what plans he has to issue guidance on the subject; and if he will make a statement. [88142]

Ruth Kelly: Treasury officials have had discussions with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in connection with their report XAchieving Community Benefits through Contracts". As the report acknowledges, the authors' understanding of the issues surrounding the procurement policy and legal framework has been furthered by discussions with, inter alia, officials at HM Treasury and the Office of Government Commerce (OGC).

Transaction Costs

Norman Lamb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on his Department's progress towards a reduction in transaction costs by 2004. [89272]

Ruth Kelly: Good progress is being made towards this target through increased use of the Government Procurement Card and more efficient systems for handling invoices.

Website Relaunch

Norman Lamb: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much the relaunch of the www.euro.gov.uk website in March 2001 cost. [89255]

Ruth Kelly: Details of HM Treasury expenditure on business euro preparations were included in the 'Sixth Report on Euro Preparations', published on 18 July 2002. Copies of the report were deposited in the Library of the House.

7 Jan 2003 : Column 169W

WORK AND PENSIONS

Minimum Income Guarantee

Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he intends to implement targets for take-up of the minimum income guarantee. [89321]

Malcolm Wicks: There are no plans to introduce a take up target for the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG). However, from October 2003, the MIG will be replaced by pension credit. The Public Service Agreement (PSA) target is to be paying pension credit to at least three million households by 2006.

ASW

Mr. Wyatt: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to pay funds into the pension schemes of the ASW workers at Sheerness and Cardiff. [85262]

Mr. McCartney [holding answer 12 December 2002]: Ministers have met members of the ASW Action Group and their constituency MPs to discuss the Group's concerns about the Cardiff and Sheemess pension schemes. We identified a number of practical ways forward and have written to the hon. Member on a number of detailed technical pension issues on the process of winding up, and has raised the concerns of the Group as appropriate within Government.

It was also suggested that the scheme's independent trustee might like to contact the Inland Revenue to discuss the option of members being re-introduced into the State Second Pension (formerly SERPS). It may be possible, under the 'deemed buyback' provisions contained in the Pensions Act 1995, for members to have their state scheme rights restored, thus ensuring that they receive an additional pension under the state scheme, in addition to basic state pension.

The Government recognises that the ASW situation is extremely unfortunate, and that is why it acted quickly to put in place a range of measures through Jobcentre Plus, in conjunction with key partner organisations to help those employees being made redundant. No responsible Government could agree to be the guarantor of private pension savings. It would place huge liabiliites on tax payers some of whom will not have private savings of their own.

The Government is concerned about schemes that wind up with insufficient assets to cover their liabilities. That is why it has set out proposals aimed at improving protection for scheme members in the pensions Green Paper 'Simplicity, security and choice: Working and saving for retirement', Cm 5677. The Green Paper includes proposals to share out scheme assets more fairly, introduce some form of insurance and strengthen protection for members whose solvent employer chooses to wind up its scheme

Child Support Agency

Mr. Denis Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many cases are being dealt with by the Child Support Agency; and how many cases were received in each of the last five years. [88156]

7 Jan 2003 : Column 170W

Malcolm Wicks: The administration of the Child Support Agency is a matter for the Chief Executive, Doug Smith. He will write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Doug Smith to Mr. Murphy, dated December 2002:


Community Care Grant

Mrs. Calton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what is the average amount by which community care grant payments have fallen short of the amounts applied for in the last four years for which figures are available. [85159]

Malcolm Wicks: The discretionary Social Fund provides help with unexpected or occasional costs which vary widely in their nature and importance, to a wide range of client groups. People applying for community care grants can request any items they wish, whether or not they fall within the scope of the scheme. In deciding whether, and for what items, a grant is payable a balance has to be struck between meeting people's needs and the costs of providing that support from available resources.

The available information is in the table. Figures for the average amount requested refer to all applications, not all of which will be successful.

Community Care Grants

YearAverage amount initially requested (#)Average amount initially awarded (#)
1998–99761343
1999–2000772342
2000–01794338
2001–02833338

Notes:

For 1998–99,and part of 1999–2000, it was possible to make a dual application for both a budgeting loan and a community care grant. For these years the average amount applied for is based on community care grant applications only, while the average amount initially awarded is for both types of application. Dual applications were phased out from 5 April 1999.

Source:

Social Fund Policy, Budget and Management Information System.


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Housing Benefit

Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how much housing benefit is unclaimed so far this financial year; and what impact he expects the implementation of the Supporting People Partnership will have on reducing this figure. [89242]

Malcolm Wicks: Estimates of unclaimed Housing Benefit for 19997/2000, the latest financial year for which information is available, are in the report XIncome Related Benefits: Estimates of Take-Up 1999/2000", a copy of which is in the Library. Estimates for 2000–01 will be published in March 2003. The Supporting People programme will give local authorities a leading role in matching the provision of housing-related support services with local needs so as to give vulnerable people in the community improved choice and flexibility. Under the programme, providers of support services and local authorities will encourage people to claim the Housing Benefit to which they are entitled, if they have not already done so. However, the impact of the programme on benefit take-up will not be measurable in isolation.

Occupational Pension Schemes

Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the change in the number of occupational pension schemes since the abolition of the right for employers to make membership a condition of employment; and if he will make a statement. [89396]

Mr. McCartney: Provision of an occupational pension scheme is a voluntary act by the employer and changes in the numbers of occupational pensions schemes since the abolition of the right to make membership compulsory in 1988 are unlikely to be related to whether membership of any particular scheme is compulsory.

A significant number of employees are not taking advantage of the occupational pension provision of their employers. The General Household Survey (2001) indicates that less than 70 per cent of employees whose employer provides a pension scheme actually participate in their employer's scheme. As a result, the Pensions Green Paper 'Simplicity, security and choice: working and saving for retirement' Cm 5677, suggests options for employers to be able to make membership of their occupational pension schemes a condition of employment for new employees. This could be one way of increasing the numbers of employees who are members of, and contributing to, their occupational pension scheme and may have benefits for employers in terms of recruitment and retention of staff.


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