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19 Mar 2003 : Column 811W—continued

Sex Education

Lady Hermon: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the advice issued by the Department of Education on the teaching of sex education in Northern Ireland. [103628]

Jane Kennedy: Following a major consultation exercise with interested parties and organisations conducted by the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, on 24 August 2001 the Department of Education issued to all schools a circular on Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE), together with comprehensive teacher guidance material, intended to help schools develop their own policy on RSE and provide a programme of RSE appropriate to the needs and maturity of their pupils.

Sickness Absence

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the rate of staff (a) absenteeism and (b) sickness was in his Department and each of its agencies and non-departmental public bodies in each year from 1990–91 to 2002–03; what the target set is for his Department; and if he will make a statement. [93511]

Mr. Paul Murphy: In the Northern Ireland Office unauthorised absence is recorded as unpaid leave and is associated with other properly authorised unpaid absence and cannot be disaggregated.

Sick absence figures are recorded by financial year for Northern Ireland Civil Servants (NIGS) and by calendar year for Home Civil Service (HCS) staff.

The available information is as follows:

Northern Ireland Civil Servants

Days sick absence per staff year
2000–012001–02
Core Department (including Compensation Agency and Forensic Science Agency)12.813.4
Northern Ireland Prison Service—(non- uniformed grades)11.915.4

Two NICS staff are on secondment to NIO NDPBs and no sick absence was reported.

The Northern Ireland Departments have set composite targets for a reduction in sick absence from 15.1 days in 2000–01 to 13.9 days by the end of 2002–03 and 13.0 days by the end of 2004–05. The NIO aims to achieve similar reductions in respect of NICS staff in the Department.


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Home Civil Servants

YearDays sick absence per staff year
19986.5
19998.0
20009.3
200110.0

The figures for 2002 will be available shortly.

All Whitehall Departments were required in 1999 to reduce sickness absence by 20 per cent. by 2001 and by 30 per cent. by 2003. For the Northern Ireland Office (HCS staff) this was measured against the 1998 baseline of 6.5 days.

A range of initiatives has been implemented to assist in reducing sickness absence rates for both staff groups. These include raising awareness of stress management, a departmental health awareness programme, development of a departmental action plan to deliver workplace health improvement, provision of family friendly policies and fair application of inefficiency procedures.

In addition the Department plans to delegate responsibility for attendance management to line managers later this year and it is hoped that greater involvement at line management level will have a positive impact on the rate of sick absence.

In the Northern Ireland Administration unauthorised absence is recorded as unpaid leave and is associated with other properly authorised unpaid absence and cannot be disaggregated.

The information sought is only readily available for non-industrial civil servants for the period 1999–2000 to 2001–02. Comparable figures for industrial civil servants, agencies and non-departmental public bodies are not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

The following table reflects the average number of working days lost for the financial years 1999–2000, 2000–01 and 2001–02 for each of the Northern Ireland Departments. Published statistics for 2000–01 and 2001–02 for Northern Ireland Departments are accessible www.dfpni.gov.uk/publications.


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Number of days lost per staff year

Department1999–20002000–012001–02
DEL16.517.919.0
DSD18.518.618.4
DCAL12.714.714.6
DHSSPS14.112.914.6
DOE14.614.614.1
DFP11.312.813.5
DE13.715.713.2
DETI13.212.413.0
DARD13.812.211.8
OFMDFM10.49.711.6
DRD11.412.211.4
Overall15.315.115.1

Due to the reorganisation of Departments following devolution, the 1999–2000 absence details were analysed according to the Department in which staff were employed at the end of the 1999–2000 financial year. The departmental figures incorporate those for their respective Agencies.

Northern Ireland Departments have now set individual business driven targets for reduction. When brought together they constitute composite targets for a reduction from a sick absence rate of 15.1 days in 2000–01 to 13.9 days by the end of 2002–03 and 13.0 days by the end of 2004–05.

The most recent report for 2001–02 identifies an improvement in sick absence levels in a number of Departments but the overall absence level for NI Departments has not changed. While it is recognised that the last two to three years have been a period of major change and upheaval for NI Departments nonetheless the current levels of sick absence continue to be a cause for major concern.

A range of corporate and departmental initiatives has been and is being taken forward to reduce the current levels of sickness absence. These include a major work force health survey; the introduction of an awareness leaflet for GPs on the support and early return mechanisms available to NICS staff; appointment of two "site" based occupational health nurses on a pilot basis; approval to recruit a psychiatric nurse; and websites on "Attendance Matters" and "Health Matters" to assist NICS managers and staff.


Small Businesses

Mr. Dodds: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many small businesses have gone out of business in Northern Ireland in each year since 1997. [103255]

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Mr. Pearson: The number of insolvency orders (bankruptcy and compulsory winding up) made against individuals and small businesses in each of the last six financial years is as follows:

Financial yearNumber of insolvency orders
1996–97411
1997–98432
1998–99421
1999–2000393
2000–01338
2001–02265

Social Housing

Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many social housing tenancies will not be varied before the end of March 2003; and whether the tenancies in Northern Ireland will be financially protected as a result of this new measure. [103278]

Mr. Browne: As at 10 March 2003, of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive's (NIHE) currently occupied stock of 103,353 tenancies and the Housing Association's combined stock of 20, 000, only 887 tenants have been required to or are pending a completion of a Deed of Variation to their current tenancy agreement. This variation is required to enable "Support" to be paid a Transitional Housing Benefit.

The Department for Social Development has advised the NIHE that in line with practice across the UK, it will honour the total amount of valid Transitional Housing Benefit claims received at 31 March 2003.

Supporting People Project

Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what percentage of the funds allocated for the Supporting People Project throughout the United Kingdom will be given to Northern Ireland; and whether the funding is in line with the Barnett Formula. [103277]

Mr. Pearson: In Northern Ireland funding for supporting people will, in common with the other parts of the United Kingdom, be based upon actual requirements for the three-year period commencing 1 April 2003, rather than upon the Barnett Formula. The Department of Finance and Personnel, in consultation with the Department for Social Development, is currently in negotiations with HM Treasury to agree the allocations.

Mr. McGrady: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many people have been identified by the health and social services trusts for transitional housing benefit through the Supporting People Project; and of those identified for benefit, how many will receive it. [103279]

Mr. Browne: A total of 887 people have been identified. All those who apply with valid transitional Housing Benefit claims received before 31 March 2003, will be paid.

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Unemployment

Mr. Donaldson: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current trends in (a) long-term and (b) youth unemployment in Northern Ireland. [103242]

Mr. Pearson: Latest estimates from the autumn 2002 Labour Force Survey (LFS) indicate that there were 18,000 persons long-term unemployed representing 41 per cent. of the total number of unemployed persons. The total long-term unemployed over the past five years has decreased by just over 40 per cent. from 31,000 in autumn 1997 to 18,000 in autumn 2002.

The youth unemployment latest estimates indicate that there were 13,000 persons aged 18–24 who were unemployed, with an associated unemployment rate of

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12.0 per cent. Over the five-year period from autumn 1997 youth unemployment has decreased from 18,000 to 13,000 in autumn 2002.


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