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18 Dec 2003 : Column 1103Wcontinued
Malcolm Wicks: We are committed to extending opportunities for older workers. Our Green Paper 'Simplicity, Security and Choice: Working and Saving for Retirement', December 2002, outlined a number of incentives to help implement flexible retirement ages.
From 2005, we propose changing the tax rules to allow people to continue working for the sponsoring employer while drawing their occupational pension . We intend to introduce more generous increases for deferral of state pensions including the option of a lump sum payment.
From October 2006, we will implement age legislation covering employment and vocational training. This will include making compulsory retirement ages unlawful except in those cases where employers can show they are objectively justified. We will work with employers and representative groups to develop best practice and ensure that occupational pension rules do not discourage flexible working.
In addition to this our Age Positive Campaign will continue to work closely with employers promoting and building on the known business benefits of recruiting and retaining older workers as part of an age diverse workforce.
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Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what representations he has received on (a) a flexible retirement age, (b) full employment for over 65s who wish to remain in work and (c) the operation of New Deal 50 plus to make support available immediately rather than after six months. 
Malcolm Wicks: Our Green Paper 'Simplicity security and choice: Working and saving for retirement', in December 2002 set out our proposals for supporting flexible retirement and greater choice and opportunity for people to work up to and beyond state pension age where they wish.
In response there was widespread support for flexible approaches to retirement, where that is based on individual choice and enables employers to retain experience and skills. Over 90 per cent. of respondents agreed with the proposal for individuals to be able to draw their occupational pension and continue working for the sponsor employer, with support coming from employers, individuals and representative organisations.
Through our Age Positive campaign employers are increasingly expressing their support for removing compulsory retirement ages. However, some employers feel that retirement ages should be retained; the Department for Trade and Industry has been consulting on proposals for age legislation covering employment and are currently assessing the responses to inform a further consultation in 2004 on draft regulations.
We have received a number of representations from organisations about the eligibility period for New Deal 50 plus. Currently, around 75 per cent. of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance aged 50 or over leave the benefit within the first six months; New Deal 50 plus eligibility is set at six months to specifically help those people who are in need of extra support to move into work.
Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assistance the Government is providing to lone parents who are living below benefit levels as a result of loan repayments to the Social Fund. 
The Budgeting Loan scheme provides interest-free loans, available to those receiving income support or income-based jobseeker's allowance for at least 26 weeks and who satisfy the qualifying conditions. In addition, Crisis Loans are made to people who are suffering an emergency or disaster where there is no other means of preventing a serious risk to the health of the applicant or a member of their family.
Repayment rates are set after taking account of deductions from benefit and all other debt repayment; where people find difficulty in meeting their loan repayments, they can apply to have their repayment terms reconsidered.
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Mr. Pond: We are considering the case for further reform of the Social Fund. However, interest-free loans allow efficient use of available resources to help large numbers of people, and have proven to be an effective way of enabling those on low incomes to cope with budgeting needs or short-term emergencies.
In certain circumstances, non-repayable grants are available from the Social Fund. Community Care Grants are available for vulnerable people in a variety of circumstances. In addition the Social Fund provides grants to assist people with the costs associated with life events such as childbirth and bereavement.
Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will estimate the number of full-time students in households where (a) Income Support and (b) disability benefits are paid; and in how many cases in each year since 199798 the attribution of the value of loans, grants and bursaries has occurred. 
Mr. Pond: No information is available for disability benefits. However, Disability Living Allowance is not an income related benefit, and is therefore payable to anyone who meets the criteria, including students.
|Number of benefit units|
1. Figures have been rounded to the nearest hundred.
2. Based on 5 per cent. sample and therefore subject to sampling variation.
3. Benefit units refers to cases with either the claimants and/or partner (if they have one) receiving income from a student loan.
4. Information is not available prior to 2000.
IAD Information Centre, 5 per cent sample.
Mr. Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what changes he proposes to make to the social security rules compelling full-time students in households reliant on benefits to take out or be deducted the full value of grants, loans and bursaries, in the light of the Government's proposals for higher education funding. 
Mr. Pond: The benefit rules are regularly updated in order to take account of changes to the student support system. We will continue to ensure that any payments in respect of fees and course-related expenses are disregarded in assessing benefits while ensuring that the benefits and student support systems do not duplicate each other in providing for maintenance costs.
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Malcolm Wicks: The Government is aware of the situation of the employees at Triplex Peterborough, but has not made an assessment of the pension fund prospects in question. However, we have great sympathy for the uncertainties they, and other workers in similar circumstances, are facing in regard to their pensions.
Annabelle Ewing: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many winter fuel payment claim forms have been issued in 2003 in each constituency in Scotland other than Perth; and how many such forms have been submitted. 
Malcolm Wicks: The information is not readily available in the format requested but will be provided to the hon. Member and placed in the Library when it becomes available. However for all the constituencies in Scotland, excluding Perth, 3,337 claim forms have been issued so far for this winter and of those 2,504 have been returned.
Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many winter fuel payment claim forms have been issued in 2003; and how many claim forms were submitted before 19 September 2003 in order for people to receive their payment before Christmas, broken down by (a) region and (b) constituency. 
Malcolm Wicks: The information is not readily available in the format requested but will be provided to the hon. Member and placed in the Library when it becomes available. However, the number of claim forms issued so far to people in Great Britain likely to become entitled for the first time to a Winter Fuel Payment is 302,353 and 171,547 claim forms were returned before 19 September 2003.
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