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4 May 2004 : Column 1458W—continued

Morganatic Marriages

Andrew Mackinlay: To ask the Prime Minister whether he has recently held discussions on introducing legislation permitting members of the Royal Family to enter into morganatic marriages; and if he will make a statement. [170550]

The Prime Minister: I have had no such discussions.

Official Visits

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list the overseas (a) cities and (b) countries which he has visited on official business in the first four months of 2004, broken down by date of visit. [170972]

The Prime Minister: Since 1999 the Government have published an annual list of all visits overseas undertaken by Cabinet Ministers costing £500 or more during each financial year. A list of all visits overseas undertaken by Cabinet Ministers from 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2004 is currently being collated and will be published in the normal way before the summer recess.

WORK AND PENSIONS

Disability Living Allowance

Hywel Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what the average period was between a disability living allowance application form being received and it being considered by a decision maker in respect of applications (a) from Wales, (b) from England, (c) in Welsh and (d) in English in each of the last three years; [170221]

(2) what percentage of disability living allowance decision makers are able to work through the medium of Welsh; [170222]

(3) what the target period is for the time between the receipt of a disability living allowance application form and its consideration by a decision maker; [170223]

(4) what percentage of disability living allowance claims submitted in Welsh are considered using (a) the original Welsh versions and (b) a translation into English; and what criteria are employed in decisions as to whether claims submitted in Welsh are translated for consideration in English; [170224]

(5) what arrangements are in place for the translation into English of disability living allowance application forms completed in Welsh. [170225]


 
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Maria Eagle: Information on the time taken for a disability living allowance claim to reach the decision maker following receipt in the Disability and Carers Service is not routinely collected.

There are three Welsh speaking Decision Makers (DMs) and one Administrative Officer all based in Cardiff Disability Benefits Centre (DBC). The total number of Decision Makers in the Disability and Carers Service nationally is approximately 1,170.

The clearance targets set by the Secretary of State, against which performance is judged, reflect overall clearance times, from claim registration to decision notification and no distinction is made between those claims received in the Welsh language and those in English. In the year ended March 2004 the national target performance on new claims cleared was an average of 39.7 days against a target of 42 days. On renewal claims the national performance achieved was an average of 28.2 days against a target of 32 days.

Any disability living allowance claim completed in Welsh received in the Disability and Carers Service whether in Cardiff Disability Benefits Centre, which administers new claims for the whole of Wales, or elsewhere is initially translated into English by the Welsh speaking staff based in the Cardiff Disability Benefits Centre. It is then processed in exactly the same way as a claim completed in English. Cardiff translated 28 disability living allowance and 78 attendance allowance claim forms from Welsh into English in the year to March 2004.

Incapacity Benefit

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many complaints have been received in the West Midlands about the tests for work applied to those on incapacity benefit. [168974]

Maria Eagle: The administration of incapacity benefit claims is carried out by Jobcentre Plus; the medical examinations are carried out by Atos Origin, which provides medical services on behalf of Jobcentre Plus.

Information on the number of complaints made to Jobcentre Plus about incapacity benefit tests is not collected centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

For the period March 2003 to February 2004, Birmingham Medical Services, which covers the West Midlands, carried out 43,162 incapacity benefit related medical examinations; for the same period it received 114 complaints about these examinations. These complaints covered a range of issues including clinical findings, accommodation, and travelling expenses.

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what guidance is issued to those (a) in receipt of incapacity benefit and (b) who have carer's responsibilities in respect of jobseeker's allowance; and if he will make a statement. [168975]

Maria Eagle: General advice regarding all benefits is available to customers from Jobcentre Plus staff before a claim is made; advice regarding a customer's specific needs is given at new claim stage by the contact centre and by the customers personal and financial advisers.
 
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Leaflet SD4 "Caring for someone" and Leaflet SD1 "Sick or disabled" are available from Jobcentre Plus offices and give detailed information for customers wishing to claim incapacity benefit or who have caring responsibilities. Copies are available in the Library.

No advice is given to people in receipt of incapacity benefit with regard to jobseeker's allowance specifically; however customers who are no longer eligible for incapacity benefit due to the results of a personal capability assessment, or because they are no longer ill may be advised to claim jobseeker's allowance if they are available for work.

People who claim jobseeker's allowance and have caring responsibilities are allowed to restrict the hours they are available for work to less than 40 hours, providing they are available for as many hours as their caring responsibility allows, and that this is at least 16 hours a week.

Maternity Benefits

Mr. Willetts: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) whether women who have been in paid employment throughout pregnancy who changed employer during this period will be eligible via (a) statutory maternity pay and (b) maternity allowance for 90 per cent. of average weekly earnings for the first six weeks of paid leave where they have not been employed by their current employer for 26 weeks; [167332]

(2) whether the benefits available through maternity allowance are equal to those made through statutory maternity pay for women who have been in paid employment during pregnancy; and if he will make a statement; [167333]

(3) if he will make statutory maternity pay available to women who change employer during pregnancy without taking a break; and if he will make a statement; [167334]

Maria Eagle: Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) and Maternity Allowance (MA) are an integral part of the measures the Government has taken to help parents balance their work and family life.

Both SMP and MA can be paid for up to 26 weeks. SMP is paid by the employer at 90 per cent. of the woman's average weekly earnings for the first six weeks followed by the lesser of £100 a week or the 90 per cent. rate; MA is paid by the Department for Work and Pensions at the lesser of £100 a week or 90 per cent. of the woman's average weekly earnings.

To get SMP, a woman must earn at least £79 a week on average and have been continuously employed by her employer for at least 26 weeks into the 15th week before the week her baby is due. She must therefore have been working for the employer who would be liable to pay SMP to her before she became pregnant and would have worked for the employer for a reasonable period before that employer is asked to administer and meet some of the costs of paying SMP to her.

To get MA, a woman must have been employed and/or self-employed for at least 26 weeks out of the 66 week period ending with the week prior to the week in which
 
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her baby is due. The weeks do not have to be continuous and a part week counts as a full week. She must also earn at least £30 a week on average.

The standard rate of both SMP and MA was increased in 2003 to £100 a week. This substantial increase, the biggest since maternity pay was introduced in 1948, coupled with extending the payment period from 18 to 26 weeks mean that most pregnant working women getting SMP or MA are more than £1,200 better off than in 2001.

We currently have no plans to make any further changes to these schemes.


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