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Pension Service Partnership Fund

The Minister for Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): Today we are announcing a unique scheme to enhance and build on our working relationships with the Government's partners in the voluntary and community sector, including local authorities.

The Pension Service Partnership Fund of £13 million will provide up to two years' funding to partners to undertake mainly local initiatives which will improve the take-up of older people's benefits, particularly by hard to reach groups. The aims of the fund were developed in consultation with members of the DWP Partnerships Against Poverty Group, a joint forum which includes national representatives from organisations such as Help the Aged, Age Concern and the Local Government Association.

It is being administered under our Link-Age Programme which aims to integrate joint working between partners so that older people are provided with a more cohesive front-line service.

There have been around 170 Partnership Fund contracts awarded to organisations throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Many of the schemes are expected to begin their work early this year. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has contributed towards the funding and is sponsoring initiatives that target areas of rural deprivation in England.

A full list of the successful applicants has been placed in the Library.

We will be monitoring the schemes closely in order to evaluate successful methods and identify innovative approaches. Subsequently we will publish details in a best practice guide aimed at the community and welfare rights audience.

Incapacity Benefit

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Alan Johnson): In his pre-Budget report of 2 December, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced our intention to expand the pathways to work service to cover the Jobcentre Plus districts covering all 30 local authority districts with the greatest proportions of working age population on incapacity benefits (IB). I would like to provide an update on work to take this forward.

The seven pathways to work pilots are designed to test the new approach in a variety of labour markets, including where IB recipiency rates are high. This means that we are already offering work-focused support from skilled personal advisers and the range of provision and incentives available in the choices package in five of the 30 local authority districts. These are Bridgend, Burnley, Gateshead, Inverclyde and Rhondda, Cynon, Taff. Early findings are showing very promising results.
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The reason the pathways pilots are performing well is due to the hard work and commitment from all the Jobcentre Plus staff and the NHS and private and voluntary sector organisations working with them. The expansion will make full use of their experience, expertise and the lessons learnt to ensure the smooth introduction of pathways in the new Jobcentre Plus districts, many of which are already working innovatively with people on IB. We are therefore putting in place twinning arrangements between current and future districts to ensure this learning and good practice is shared at all levels.

The new condition management programmes are a totally new concept in combining health and employment interventions to help customers to manage their health and consider work. They are a good example of the successful partnership working between Jobcentre Plus and the Department of Health, devolved administrations and local primary care trusts/health boards. We are continuing to work with medical experts and local representatives to develop equally high quality programmes for the new pathways districts.

We will start to roll out the pathways service from the end of October 2005 onwards and when all the new programmes are in place it will mean the pathways approach will be operating in one third of the country and cover around 900,00 IB recipients. I know that there is a lot of work to be done to introduce an effective work focused interview regime and ensure high quality provision is available.
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The new pathways areas will be rolled out according to the following schedule:
Phase 1—October 2005Phase 2—April 2006Phase 3—October 2006
CumbriaBarnsley, Rotherham and DoncasterEastern Valleys
GlasgowCity of SunderlandGreater Mersey
Lancashire WestCounty DurhamStaffordshire
Tees ValleyLanarkshire and East Dumbarton
Liverpool and the Wirral
Manchester and Salford
Swansea and West Wales

This major expansion of pathways is designed to test a mandatory work focused interview regime and the choices package provision in all those areas with high levels of inactivity and IB recipiency rates. By extending the number of people who receive advice and support from skilled personal advisers we aim to ensure as many people as possible starting a claim for IB are able to fulfil their aspiration for a return to employment and also to reduce the numbers at risk of long term inactivity and benefit dependency, with the damaging social and economic impact that chronic ill health and inactivity has on them and the locality they live in.

Alongside the decision to extend the current pilots to some existing IB customers, expanding the areas in the country operating pathways is the first major step in reforming IB and focusing customers on their remaining capabilities and encouraging them back to work.