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Written Answers to Questions

Monday 13 January 2003



17. Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to announce a new definition of poverty. [89716]

Malcolm Wicks: Poverty is a complex multi-dimensional problem. The fourth XOpportunity for all" report (Cm 5598) sets out our strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion and presents the latest information on the indicators used to monitor progress against our strategy. Specifically on child poverty, last April we launched XMeasuring child poverty: a consultation document". We will be in a position to publish preliminary conclusions from the consultation by this spring.


19. Andy Burnham: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to help people affected by large scale redundancies to find new work. [89718]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: In April 2002 we launched the Rapid Response Service to offer a coherent, tailored response to redundancies and help those people affected make the transition into sustainable new jobs.

By December 2002 in the North West region, the Rapid Response Service had provided support to 25 companies and made its services available to over 5,000 people facing redundancy.

Pension Schemes

20. John Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he is taking to encourage companies to retain existing final salary pension schemes and to make them available to new employees. [89719]

Mr. McCartney: We published the Green Paper XSimplicity, security and choice: working and saving for retirement" (Cm 5677) on 17 December 2002. It provides a framework to help individuals save more in partnership with employers by providing a regulatory framework that supports employers in providing and contributing to good quality pension schemes. The Government's strategy is based on three linked proposals: major simplification of private pensions regulation and tax rules to ease burdens on employers and promote private provision; greater protection for scheme members to increase confidence and help to ensure that people get the pensions they expect; helping employers to provide better information for employees to help employees to understand the value of their pension scheme and to facilitate informed choice. The

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Green Paper makes clear that different types of scheme suit employees with different characteristics and that overall no particular scheme type is invariably better than the others. Defined contribution schemes tend to be better for employees who move jobs more frequently. The focus, therefore, should be on building on employer commitment and emphasising the advantages to both employer and employee of workplace pension provision. The Green Paper proposals to radically simplify the regulatory regime for pensions could, in total, save employers #150-#200 million a year in administration.


21. Mr. Baron : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the number of people of working age who are neither working nor registered as seeking work or as benefit claimants. [89720]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: About four million people of working age are not working or claiming unemployment related benefit but are claiming another out of work benefit.

In addition other working age people, for example those who are financially independent, students and people looking after the family home, are not active in the labour market and are not claiming an out of work benefit.

Second Pensions

22. Hugh Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action the Government are taking to persuade people of working age to contribute to second pensions. [89721]

Mr. McCartney: We believe that if people have the right information and clear choices they will plan for their retirement sensibly. Currently, informed choice is frustrated by complexity.

The Green Paper offers a simple framework to help people understand their options and to give individuals clear information tailored to their own circumstances so they can see how the choices they face relate back to their own retirement prospects. A new pensions advice line and an improved web-based retirement planner will be set up. This builds on the improvements already in train with the new Pension Service which is now rolling out nationally. York pension centre opened on 28 October 2002 and is establishing itself along contact centre lines. Proposals in the Green Paper include significantly extended coverage of combined state and occupational pension forecasts which early research shows have the potential to encourage many people to save more.

State Pensions

23. Mr. Goodman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement about the Green Paper on Pensions, with special reference to plans for state pensions. [89722]

Mr. McCartney: The Green Paper, XSimplicity, security and choice, working and saving for retirement" (Cm 5677), set out our proposals to simplify

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occupational and private pensions saving and make flexible retirement easier, following our earlier reforms to state provision and to financial services. Our proposals will enable people to make informed choices about their retirement provision, building on the foundation of state pension support. As the Green Paper explained, we have already taken action to reform the system of state support for pensioners, focussing in particular on tackling pensioner poverty. Specifically, we introduced the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG) which is currently worth #98.15 a week for single pensioners and #149.80 for couples. Around 2.1 million people in the UK are benefiting from the MIG now.

From October this year the MIG is being subsumed by the more generous Pension Credit which will reward pensioners with savings, second pensions or earnings, yielding incomes up to #139 a week for single pensioners and nearly #204 a week for couples. In addition we brought in the State Second Pension from April 2002 to boost the pension rights of low and moderate earners and bring in groups of non-workers for the first time. Around 4.5 million low earners will build up an additional State Pension worth at least twice what SERPS would have provided. Two million carers and two million disabled people also build up pension rights for the first time. Also, from this April the basic State Pension will be worth #77.45 a week for single pensioners which is a 7 per cent. real terms increase since 1997. And in future years we are committed to increasing the basic State Pension by at least 2.5 per cent., even if the Retail Price Index (RPI) is below this.

Other measures we introduced include free TV licences for those aged over 75, which benefits four million households and Winter Fuel payments now worth #200 each year for eligible households. Around 11 million people benefited from Winter Fuel payments for winter 2001–02. We considered that this state support for pensioners we have put in place provides the right foundation for retirement. We were not persuaded by calls to increase State Pension age for a number of reasons, including that such a change would have a disproportionate effect on the poorest pensioners. We are currently consulting on the proposals in the Green Paper.

Incapacity Benefit

24. Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what targets his Department has for reducing the number of incapacity benefit claimants. [89723]

Mr. Nicholas Brown: We have no targets for getting people who claim incapacity benefit into work. Our Green Paper, XPathways to Work", sets out our strategy for enabling people on incapacity benefit to move into work, and so become and remain independent.

Child Poverty (London)

25. Mr. Dismore: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on progress in reducing child poverty in London. [89724]

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Malcolm Wicks: The Government's commitment to tackling poverty and social exclusion throughout the United Kingdom is well known. In particular, we have made a clear pledge to abolish child poverty in a generation and to halve it by 2010. We will end the scourge of child poverty in London and in the rest of the UK.

In the fourth XOpportunity for All" report (CM 5598), we describe the action we have taken to tackle poverty and social exclusion. Progress is monitored against a wide range of indicators.

Benefit Fraud

Ms Stuart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what security procedures he has put in place to prevent fraudulent claims for family credit, with special reference to the use of maiden names. [88229]

Dawn Primarolo: I have been asked to reply.

All applications for WFTC go through a stringent verification process to ensure payment is made to the correct applicant. Use of a maiden name will not circumvent these checks on the applicant's identity.

Benefit Inquiry Line

Mr. Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make a statement on the operation of the Benefit Inquiry Line. [87914R]

Maria Eagle: The Benefit Enquiry Line is a confidential telephone advice and information service for people with disabilities, their carers and representatives. It offers general advice and information about all social security benefits and how to claim them. It can offer advice and assistance with completing many disability-related claim forms and provides a leaflet and claim form distribution service. It will also sign-post people to other services where appropriate. The Benefit Enquiry Line answers approximately 23,000 calls per week.

The Benefit Enquiry Line aims to meet the National DWP Call Centre Target of answering 90 per cent. of calls within 30 seconds. Currently the Enquiry Line answers approximately 55 per cent. of calls within this target.

The Disability and Carers Service is reviewing the role of the Benefit Enquiry Line in the context of the changes being made by Jobcentre Plus and The Pension Service to provide a more complete service to their customers. The review is on-going and no decision has been taken by Ministers on any outcome.

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