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Mental Health

8. Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the contribution of Work Link in Stockport to supporting people with mental health problems to move back into work. [177318]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): Stockport council's Work Link initiative has been providing a well regarded, work-focused service to people with mental health impairments since 1998. I am pleased that Work Link is working closely with Jobcentre Plus and I am confident that their partnership will continue to deliver the intense one-to-one support that has been successful in helping 68 people with mental health impairments into work since 1999.

Ms Coffey: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Work Link has been providing employment services to people with severe learning disabilities and mental health problems for several years and has had a remarkable success rate in placing people in work. However, because of changes in the structure of bidding for the European social fund, the long-term financial support for the project is now in doubt. Will my hon. Friend visit Work Link in my constituency, see for herself the excellent services that are being provided, and discuss the possibilities for sustainable, long-term funding to assure the future of the project?

Maria Eagle: I am keen to continue successful partnerships with organisations such as Work Link, which has developed specialist expertise to help many people who have traditionally been ignored by society and written off as incapable of work. I am more than happy to visit Stockport and Work Link as soon as I have the opportunity to do so to discuss those issues with the project's staff.

Jobcentre Plus

10. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): Pursuant to his oral answer of 26 April 2004, Official Report, columns 631-32W, on Jobcentre Plus (Scotland), how much has been invested in Jobcentre Plus in Scotland in the most recent convenient period. [177320]

The Minister for Work (Jane Kennedy): In Scotland in the last financial year, £48.8 million was invested in welfare-to-work programmes and more than £31 million in the roll-out of new Jobcentre Plus offices and new contact centres. Forty-five of the new Jobcentre Plus offices are now open in Scotland, including the Bathgate office in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Dalyell: How successful has Jobcentre Plus been in bringing the hitherto economically inactive back into productive work?
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Jane Kennedy: Nationally, more than 276,000 people have been helped into work through the new deals for lone parents and disabled people, who are some of our hardest to help customers. In Scotland, the new deal for lone parents has assisted 26,780 people back into work since its introduction in 1998.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): The question for my right hon. Friend the Minister is whether that investment has been worth while. In the review of district structure, the new Highlands, Islands and Clyde coast district includes Dumbarton. The new headquarters for that district is 182 miles away in Inverness. Kevin Doran, the director for Scotland, has confirmed in a letter to me that the new structure is about economies of scale, but I would like reassurance from my right hon. Friend that it is also about efficiency, convenient access and customer care. Can I have such guarantees on behalf of my constituents?

Jane Kennedy: The development of Jobcentre Plus is about building on the high quality service already provided by social security offices and jobcentres by delivering a single integrated service to all people of working age, with a clear focus on work. It is about delivering more flexibility to the staff who are in the closest contact with my hon. Friend's constituents. I undertake to ensure that we continue to work with Jobcentre Plus to keep assistance to customers and customer service at the forefront of our targets.

Income Support

11. Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): How many people he estimates are not claiming the income support to which they are entitled; and if he will make a statement. [177321]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond): We want all people who are eligible for benefits to take up their entitlement. Our most recent estimate is that between 86 and 95 per cent of people who are entitled to income support are receiving it, leaving between 110,000 and 350,000 working-age adults not receiving it.Among claimants with children, take-up is higher at between 93 and 99 per cent.

Mr. Tredinnick: I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he tell us whether the number of people claiming housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support is going up or down overall? If the overall number is going up, does not that show the Government elected in 1997 as a dismal failure?

Mr. Pond: No, it shows considerable success across the board. The hon. Gentleman will have heard my hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions talking about what we are doing and about our great success in extending access to the pension credit. He will know that we have launched a campaign on council tax benefit. Because the eligibility limits for many of those benefits have been increased generously, it is true that more people have become entitled and we are working hard to ensure that those newly entitled people get the benefits to which they are entitled and make claims as appropriate.
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Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Are some people who are in receipt of child support allowance missing out on income support? I have a letter sent on behalf of the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus. It shows that the change that came in on 12 April means that:

That is being countermanded by local provision. The Chesterfield manager states that it is misleading because maintenance payments are made not to the children but to the parent. Can the matter be clarified? Are some people missing out on income support because they are on Child Support Agency money?

Mr. Pond: As my hon. Friend will know, we have made an important change in saying that maintenance payments will not be taken into account in the child tax credit, but I shall look into the specific issue he raised and the confusion that has arisen as a result of the fact that support for children has moved from income support across to a seamless system of child tax credits.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): On the operation of the benefits system generally, with particular reference to income-related benefits, has the Minister had a chance to read the annual report of the Daventry welfare rights group for the last fiscal year? It reports a staggering 50 per cent. increase in the work load and comments simply that new benefits are introduced and the common factor is chaos. Would not Ministers be better advised to stop tinkering with the system and to make a real effort to reduce its complexity and its over-dependence on means-testing?

Mr. Pond: I have to say that that particular publication did not form part of my weekend's reading, but I shall make sure that it is part of my next weekend's reading. However, I am absolutely sure that the publication will have included reference to the fact that we are the first Government ever to have set ourselves a target of, first, halving and then eliminating child poverty and that we are determined to deal with pensioner poverty. That is why we have had to sort out much of the benefits mess left to us by the previous Government and why we have had to introduce benefits such as the pension credit, which assists many thousands of pensioners in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, as it does elsewhere in the country.

Housing Allowance

12. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): What progress has been made in piloting the standard local housing allowance in the private rented sector. [177322]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond) : We are making excellent progress on the local housing allowance pathfinders. All nine pathfinder local authorities have implemented the reforms smoothly and we have put in place a comprehensive and independent evaluation. Although these are early days, the indications are that the local housing allowance is working well.

Siobhain McDonagh: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. With specific reference to London, what are the
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early findings? Although the pilot on the standard local housing allowance is welcome, I foresee problems in London where demand for accommodation of all sorts is huge.

Mr. Pond: In choosing the pathfinders, we wanted to ensure that we were able to cover high demand areas as well as low demand areas. That is why one of the nine pathfinders is based in London, and we shall look carefully at the implications of that for the working of the scheme. In Lewisham, 2,000 people are already in receipt of the local housing allowance, and it is working well at present. As I said, these are early days and we have announced that a further wave of local authorities will be included in a local housing allowance scheme to see operationally how it will work in practice. We have received a tremendous response from local authorities that would like to be involved and we shall announce which of them will be included in the near future. We hope that one of them, too, will be in London.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Is this the best time to be transferring the new scheme to the private rented sector, bearing in mind the tremendous pressure that that sector of the housing market is coming under, particularly in north Yorkshire, and the lack of affordable homes in that area? What discussions has the Minister or his Department had with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to try to alleviate the situation by getting more homes from the private rented sector on to the market and by providing more affordable homes?

Mr. Pond: The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I can tell her that we have had extensive discussions with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. We need to tackle the issue from both ends. We need to make sure that more affordable housing becomes available and, at the same time, that tenants have more choice and more ability to make decisions about how they spend their incomes. That means ensuring that they make the decisions about quality in terms of the housing available.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend tell the House how the local housing allowance pilots—which, on the face of it, should permit people to make choices about the type and quality of their accommodation—are working and whether, in particular, in poorer areas such as mine there is evidence that people are exercising their power of choice to trade up or to trade down?

Mr. Pond: Yes, I can say that, in the pathfinders, the overall effect—whether it be in the high demand or low demand areas—seems to be generally very positive. We are not seeing great problems in terms of the extension of choice to tenants. In areas such as that of my hon. and learned Friend, the available evidence seems to suggest that when people have the choices and the income to make those choices a reality, they tend to trade up in the quality of their accommodation. That would be our expectation.

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