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Minimum Income Standard

Mrs. Calton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what discussions he has had with the Treasury to establish a minimum income standard which includes targeted support to meet the costs of caring for a disabled child. [96312]

Maria Eagle: DWP Ministers meet with ministerial colleagues regularly to discuss issues related to the alleviation of child poverty. They attend the Ministerial Group on Children and Young People (MISC9) and the Joint Ministerial Committee on Poverty, both of which address child poverty issues.

We do recognise that disabled children, and their families, have additional needs. We are committed to helping severely disabled people with the extra costs they face as a result of their disabilities. In April 2002 the disabled child premium was increased by £5 a week on top of the normal uprating, to £35.50. In April 2003, it will rise again by £5 above inflation, to more than £40 a week on top of basic Income Support or tax credits. In addition, the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance was extended to three and four-year-olds in April 2001, providing an extra £39.30 a week to those families.

A full analysis of our strategy to eradicate child poverty is given in our annual "Opportunity for all" reports. "Opportunity for all—fourth annual report" (CM 5598) was published in September 2002. It reports on a range of outcome indicators covering many dimensions of poverty and social exclusion.

Benefit/Pension Entitlement

Mrs. Fitzsimons: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if the Government will review benefit and pension entitlement with regard to the relationship between the lower earnings threshold and national insurance contributions. [97076]

Mr. McCartney: The Lower Earnings Limit is currently set at £75 a week, and will rise to £77 a week from the start of the new tax year.

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Until April 2000 employees started paying national insurance contributions, and building up entitlement to contributory benefits, once their earnings reached the Lower Earnings Limit. However from April 2000 a new employees' earnings threshold was introduced as the point from which employees start to pay contributions. This is currently £89 a week, and will remain at this level for 2003–04. This means that employees who earn between the Lower Earnings Level and the earnings threshold do not have to pay national insurance contributions, but nevertheless continue to build up entitlement to contributory benefits such as state pension.

The recent Green Paper "Simplicity, security and choice: Working and saving for retirement" (Cm 5677) recognised that some people, in particular women, in low-paid or part-time work may face difficulties in accruing sufficient individual rights for the state pension. We will continue to look at the effect of this on contributory and other benefits.


Ms Atherton: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the Office for National Statistics' report "Social Trends" predicting a continued rise in the proportion of the population over 65; and if he will make a statement. [96729]

Mr. McCartney: The number of people aged over 65 in the UK is expected to increase more rapidly than the population as a whole, leading to a rise in the proportion of the population aged over 65.

The figures in the Office for National Statistics' report "Social Trends" predicting the rise in the proportion of the population over 65 are the same as those considered by this Department when producing the pensions Green Paper, "Simplicity, security and choice: Working and saving for retirement" (Cm5677).

The Green Paper sets out our proposals.

Departmental Consultations

Mr. Yeo : To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list consultations his Department has conducted since it was established; and when each consultation (a) opened and (b) closed. [97424]

Mr. McCartney: The Government's code of practice on written consultation applies to written consultations which have a national impact on policy and services from 1 January 2001. The Department for Work and Pensions came into being in June 2001. All copies of consultation documents are published online on both the Department for Work and Pensions and UK Online websites. Paper copies are also available.

Details on the timing of each consultation since June 2001 are in the table.

Title of consultationStart dateEnd date
Amending the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 197923.07.0115.10.01
Occupational Pension Scheme Winding up Notices and Reports (etc) Regulations 200101.08.0123.10.01
Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Disclosure of Information) Amendment Regulations 200113.08.0115.11.01
Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes (Contracting-out) draft miscellaneous amending regulations03.05.0131.07.01
Changes to Invalid Care Allowance23.07.0115.10.01
The Minimum Funding Requirement: The next stage of reform. Consultation on the draft Occupational Pension Schemes (Minimum Funding Requirement and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 200118.09.0112.10.01
Private Pensions Simplification19.10.0131.01.02
Bulk transfer of accrued pensions rights without member consent20.12.0122.03.02
Revised code of practice on for gathering of information as required in Social Security Fraud Act 200108.04.0220.04.02
Consultation on Three Recommendations in the Myners' report–"Institutional Investment in the UK-a review"04.02.0203.05.02
Member nominated trustees and directors12.02.0213.03.02
Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority (OPRA) quinquennial review10.05.0202.08.02
Measuring Child Poverty18.04.0210.07.02
The future of the residential allowance component of Income Support, Minimum Income Guarantee, Jobseeker's Allowance22.05.0231.08.02
Equality, Opportunity, and Independence for all (Race Relations Amendment Act)30.05.0230.09.02
Social Security Advisory Committee Review16.10.0208.01 .03
Pathways to work: Helping people into employment18.11.0210.02.03
Simplicity, security and choice: working and saving for retirement17.12.0228.03.03

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Disability Living Allowance

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for what reasons disability living allowance spending has increased from 1995–96 to 2003–04 (planned); and if he will make a statement. [97361]

Maria Eagle: DLA provides a contribution towards the extra costs faced by severely disabled people. It is paid to those who require personal care and/or have walking difficulties as a result of their disabilities. Spending on the benefit has increased steadily year on year because more people than ever are receiving the benefit (and because its value has been maintained by increasing the rates at which it is paid each year in line with the movement in prices as measured by the retail prices index).

Early Years and Sure Start

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what his Department's policy in respect of Early Years and Sure Start funding is in relation to funding for (a) Stoke on Trent and (b) Staffordshire; and who will take the lead in developing services. [93161]

Maria Eagle: Sure Start Unit brings together at a national level responsibility for early education, childcare and health and family support in one, cross-departmental unit. This national change does not, however, alter the existing roles and responsibilities of Local Authorities (including Stoke on Trent and Staffordshire). They retain their significant responsibilities under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 for early years and childcare. This includes developing local strategic plans for delivery against key government targets for early years and childcare services. Funding is provided to local authorities to enable them to achieve targets and deliver against objectives set out in their plans.

There are also no current plans to change the funding arrangements for Sure Start Local Programmes. Local Authorities will need to take the services provided through such programmes into account in developing their plans.

External Consultants

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to his answer of 21 January 2003 to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow),

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Official Report, column 261W, on external consultants, if he will list the projects completed by external consultants during 2001–02, with the cost of each project. [96786]

Mr. McCartney : I refer the hon. Member to the written answer I gave the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) on 4 February 2003, Official Report, column 238W.

Ménière's Disease

Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will treat those suffering from Ménière's disease as eligible for disability living allowance. [96287]

Maria Eagle: People with Ménière's disease are entitled to Disability Living Allowance if they meet the usual qualifying conditions for the benefit, which depend on the effects that severe physical or mental disability have on a person's need for personal care and/or their ability to walk and not on particular disabilities or diagnoses.

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