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30 Jan 2003 : Column 1002W—continued

Family Incomes (Warrington, North)

Helen Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of families in Warrington, North whose family income is (a) less than £10,000, (b) between £10,000 and £20,000 and (c) between £20,000 and £30,000 per annum. [94374]

Malcolm Wicks: The information requested is not available.

Child Benefit Claims

Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many child benefit claims have been received in (a) total and (b) via the electronic claim process since the launch of the child benefit electronic claim form; and how many claims proved to be successful. [93054]

Malcolm Wicks: The Child Benefit electronic claims process was introduced on 28 October 2002. The total number of Child Benefit claims received in the Child Benefit Centre during the period 28 October 2002 to 13 January 2003 was 156,852. Of these, 1,797 claims were received electronically, 1.1 per cent. of overall total. During the same period around 11,000 claims were

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disallowed in total, although this will include some claims made before 28 October. No information is available on the proportion of disallowed claims that were received electronically.

Child Support Agency

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what changes he plans to make to the operation of the Child Support Agency; when those changes will come into effect; and if he will make a statement. [94010]

Malcolm Wicks: I refer the hon. Member to the oral statement given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to the House on 27 January 2003, Official Report, column 567–68.

Housing Benefit

Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what evaluation has been undertaken of the changes in the single room rent regulations of housing benefit; what the conclusion of that evaluation were; and if he will make a statement. [89410]

Malcolm Wicks: To help promote work incentives, we broadened the definition of the Single Room Rent (SRR) from 2 July 2001 to reflect better the type of accommodation available in the market to young single people. Our aim is both to ease the problems faced by young people in getting and maintaining accommodation, and encourage landlords to rent to young adults.

This year we will be testing out the Standard Local Housing Allowances (SLHA) in around 10 pathfinder local authorities. Private sector tenants will be paid according to average local rents rather than rents charged. This will allow people to know in advance what housing benefit support they will receive, promote choice and personal responsibility and bridge the gap between benefit and work by allowing tenants to budget for their own rent. The evaluation of the pathfinders will include tracking the effects of the SLHA on people under 25 years of age, and the results will inform consideration of whether any changes to the younger person rent restrictions are necessary.

As part of a wider project examining the options for simplification of housing benefit in the private rent sector, "Housing Benefit Simplification in the Private Rented Sector" by Pettigrew N and Thomas A (DWP in-house research report No.107), looked at the SRR. This report was published in December 2002 and a copy is available in the Library.

Income Support

Ms Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the impact of reducing or withdrawing income support from lone parent students prior to receipt of student loans at the start of term. [92103]

Malcolm Wicks: The Government are encouraging everyone with the necessary qualifications, including lone parents, to enter further and higher education. For further education institutions in England 1 , we have increased the ring-fenced budget for child care funds by

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20 per cent. to £36 million in 2002–03. In higher education in England and Wales 1 , lone parents already pay no tuition fees if their income is less than £20,480, and have access to a range of support including grants for child care, school meals and travel, books and equipment. These grants are being simplified from next September, as all lone parents (including students) will now be eligible for the new child tax credit being introduced from April 2003. This will make it even easier for lone parents to make the transition from benefits to higher education.

Student loans are paid in three instalments and are taken into account in income-related benefits for the period they are intended to cover i.e. September to June. The Department for Education and Skills has made arrangements to ensure that students who need financial help in the period before their first loan instalment arrives, can receive a payment from the Access and Hardship Funds held by their university to tide them over. This payment is disregarded in assessing entitlement to income-related benefits.


Minimum Wage

Pete Wishart: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) if he will estimate the impact on the level of benefit payments of setting the minimum wage for young people at (a) £4.17 per hour and (b) £4.87 per hour; [90640]

Malcolm Wicks: The information requested is in the table:

£

Change to minimum wageEstimated reduction in benefit payments for 2003–04(6),(7),(8)
Set at £4.17 per hour for young people3,700,000
Set at £4.87 per hour for young people20,000,000
Set at £4.17 per hour for all age groups3,700,000
Set at £4.87 per hour for all age groups68,800,000
Increase from £4.20 to £4.87 for adults (aged 22+) and £3.60 to £4.17 for young people(aged 19–21)4,5
In Scotland11,400,000
In England78,000,000
In Wales4,300,000
Set at £4.20 per hour for all age groups3,900,000
Set at £5.00 per hour for all age groups 82,000,000
Set at £5.30 per hour for all age groups117,600,000

(6) The benefits included in the savings estimates are Pensioners Credit, Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Rebate. Tax Credits administered by Inland Revenue have not been included.

(7) The model does not estimate changes in employment and therefore the results do not account for any changes that may occur in the supply and demand of labour as a result of changing the national minimum wage.

(8) Estimates cannot be broken down by benefit due to small sample sizes. Estimates are rounded to the nearest £100,000.

(9) The results show the impact of raising the adult minimum wage and the young persons minimum wage simultaneously.

(10) Social Security matters for Northern Ireland are dealt with by the Northern Ireland Office.

Source:

Figures are estimated using the DWP's Policy Simulation Model for 2003–04 based on the Family Resources Survey 2000–01


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Prisoners

Mr. Stinchcombe: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps are being taken to ensure that prisoners have immediate access to benefits and services provided by the Department on the point of release. [91369]

Malcolm Wicks: Ex-offenders have particular difficulties in returning to the labour market. We also know that those without accommodation or employment are twice as likely to re-offend. In recognition of this we are introducing a number of initiatives to help ex-offenders move into work.

£3 million has been allocated over three years to the development of Freshstart, launched in October 2001. Freshstart aims to improve the transition from custody to work through improving the links between prisons and jobcentres. It also provides prisoners who have not already secured a job with an appointment for a new jobseeker interview on release, providing direct access to jobs and the new deal, as well as speeding up their claim for jobseeker's allowance. By the end of November 2002, over 23,000 new jobseeker interviews had been booked.

In July 2002 we launched a pilot scheme to place touch-screen jobpoints in prisons. There are two trials currently running; computer access to the Department's Worktrain site in Durham, Onley, Askham Grange and Moorland prisons; and jobpoints in Lewes, Swansea, Hollesley Bay and Featherstone prisons.

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We are also currently developing an Employment and Benefit Surgeries in Prisons project to meet the recommendations made in the Home Office Social Exclusion Unit report "Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners". We aim to start national roll out later in 2003. The project will offer all prisoners aged 18 and over one-to-one guidance on access to the full range of benefits and services offered by the Department.Typically this will cover:


This new work will build upon and complement existing provision for ex-offenders.

We have also developed a number of pilot programmes called Progress2work-LinkUP which focus on providing support for those at greatest disadvantage within the labour market, including ex-offenders. This initiative extends existing provision to tackle the issues that represent significant barriers to employment. The pilots support people by:


Nine pilots were launched in autumn 2002 in Avon and Somerset, Merseyside and Metropolitan and West Yorkshire. Up to 10 further pilots are planned for 2003–04 focusing on the Greater Manchester, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, West Midlands and Thames Valley areas.


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