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19 Jun 2003 : Column 414W—continued

Post Office Card Accounts

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many customers have (a) been invited to take part in direct payment and (b) failed to respond to such an invitation, in respect of each benefit. [114044]

Maria Eagle: As at 6 June 2003, 2,800,000 customers have been invited to convert to Direct Payment.

706,000 customers have yet to respond.

Pensions and Jobcentre Plus customers began their conversion process with controlled pilots. Their full conversion commenced on 1 April 2003.


Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has to change the definition of poverty he uses. [119481]

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Malcolm Wicks: Poverty is a complex and multi-dimensional problem. The fourth Opportunity 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, we launched Measuring Child Poverty: a consultation document in April 2002. We received over 80 detailed written responses to the consultation and have gathered feedback from workshops in London and Edinburgh with academics and organisations interested in child poverty measurement. We have also organised workshops in partnership with organisations such as the Children's Society, Barnardo's, Children in Wales and the European Anti-Poverty Network—to gather the views of children, young people and adults with direct experience of poverty.

Measuring Child Poverty Consultation: preliminary conclusions was published in May 2003. This outlines recommendations and next steps based on a thorough analysis of the responses to the consultation. The report states that further technical work is necessary before finalising any new measure of child poverty and that we intend to publish final conclusions by the end of 2003.

All reports are available in the Library.

Women's Pensions

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what action he has taken to ensure that women who paid the married woman's national insurance contribution will receive a full pension. [118487]

Maria Eagle: The married women who opted to pay reduced rate contributions made an informed choice. They were required to give written notice of their decision on a form attached to a leaflet. The leaflet went to great lengths to describe the consequences of that decision and required them to sign a declaration that they had read and understood the leaflet. Employers could not make this decision on behalf of their employees. Women who chose to pay reduced rate national insurance contributions were given a certificate to give to their employer. An employer was not allowed to deduct reduced rate national insurance contributions without this certificate. It would be unfair to those married women who chose to pay the full rate contribution to retrospectively put married women who paid the reduced rate contribution in the same position.

All married women are able to get a basic state pension based on their husband's contributions of 60 per cent. of his entitlement once both have reached state pension age and have claimed their state pension.

In the recent pensions Green Paper: 'Simplicity, security and choice: Working and saving for retirement' we have proposed looking at how best to ensure that women are aware of their pension position and the choices they make.

We recognise that the majority of pensioners are women and are committed to ensuring that our pension reforms improve women's pension rights. We have already done much to help. The introduction of stakeholder pensions, State Second Pension, winter fuel

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payments, improvements to the minimum income guarantee and, from this October, pension credit are, or will be, of particular help to women. We are also extending home responsibilities protection to foster carers to help protect their basic state pension entitlement whilst they are doing this valuable job. This will particularly benefit women since they form the majority of foster carers.


Supported Living Schemes

Mr. Cameron: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister when the Government issued guidance to providers about supported living; when the deadline for funding such schemes is; and if he will make a statement. [119244]

Keith Hill: A considerable amount of guidance has been issued to local authorities and providers on the Supporting People programme, which may be found on the SPKweb This guidance has been being issued over the last two years. The programme went live on 1 April, following the closure of the Transitional Housing Benefit Scheme. Local authorities were informed of the provisional amounts of funding in February 2003, and confirmation of final allocations is planned to take place in September following the receipt of further returns from authorities. Chief authorities are now responsible for Supporting People and will decide, following reviews of current provision, which types and levels of service should be provided locally.

Affordable Housing

Andrew George: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many affordable housing units have been built in each year since 1997 (a) with social housing grant, (b) with local authority social housing and (c) with no public funding (i) in England and (ii) in rural districts. [117984]

Keith Hill: The available information is presented in the following table.

Affordable housing units built in England

Units funded through:
(a) Housing Corporation Social Housing Grant(b) Local Authority Social Housing Grant
Deep rural1,128894
Mixed rural4,1722,427
All rural authorities5,3003,321
All authorities29,55110,161
Deep rural823718
Mixed rural4,1811,764
All rural authorities5,0042,482
All authorities28,2079,714
Deep rural734728
Mixed rural3,1971,652
All rural authorities3,9312,380
All authorities23,5688,396
Deep rural802478
Mixed rural3,1901,532
All rural authorities3,9922,010
All authorities20,8678,081
Deep rural758399
Mixed rural 3,0361,283
All rural authorities 3,7941,682
All authorities 21,6056,628


Completions in respect of any schemes originally approved prior to 1996–97 involving both Housing Corporation and Local Authority Social Housing Grant support will be counted under both headings, but cannot be distinguished.

Affordable housing schemes comprise those for rent (including Tariff, and Mixed Funded schemes); temporary social housing schemes (including MiniHag, and short-life housing); and shared or outright ownership schemes (including leasehold for the elderly).


Housing Corporation returns

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Information about the number of affordable housing units built without any form of public funding is not available.

The Government have taken substantial measures to alleviate housing pressures in rural areas as part of the Rural White Paper and Sustainable Communities Plan.

These include more than doubling the Housing Corporation's target for the number of approvals of homes in small rural settlements since 2000–01. The measures have increased the number of schemes in the pipeline and should start to flow through to an increased number of completed homes in rural areas over the next few years.

We expect over 5,000 homes to be approved in small rural settlements alone between 2003–04 and 2005–06.

Under the new regional arrangements it will be for Regional Housing Boards to consider rural housing needs in advising on the allocation of resources.


Matthew Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many homes were deliberately set on fire each day on average in each year from 1997 to 2001; and what the estimated cost to the fire service was in each year. [120032]

Mr. Raynsford: The following table contains information on malicious fires in dwellings in the UK from 1997 to 2001. Malicious fires are those where malicious or deliberate ignition was proved or suspected.

Information on the cost to the fire service is not available before 1999. The estimates in the table are derived from applying an average fire service response cost for domestic fires of £2,800 to the totals.

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Malicious fires in dwellings, UK, 1997–2001

YearTotalAverageper dayEstimated annual cost(£ million)


Data for 2001 are provisional. The definition of dwelling locations include caravans, houseboats and other non-buildings used solely as permanent dwellings

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how many malicious car fires occurred in (a) 1997, (b) 1998 and (c) 1999; and what the estimated cost to the fire service was in each year. [120033]

Mr. Raynsford: In the UK there were 36,403 malicious car fires in 1997, 42,659 in 1998 and 56,207 in 1999. Malicious fires are those where malicious or deliberate ignition was proved or suspected.

Information on the cost to the fire service is not held centrally before 1999, and could be provided only at disproportionate cost. Applying an average fire service response cost for vehicle fires of £880 to each malicious car fire attended gives an estimated total cost for malicious car fires of £49.5 million in 1999.

Matthew Taylor: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what the cost to the UK economy was of arson in each year since 1997. [120034]

Mr. Raynsford: Information regarding the cost to the UK economy of arson is not held centrally, and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.

For England and Wales the estimated total cost to the economy of arson in 1999, when information was collected centrally for the first time, was £2.1 billion. In 2000 it was estimated as £2.2 billion; the estimated costs for 2001 are being prepared and will be published in due course.

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