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Mr. Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether employers who run defined benefit occupational pension schemes are entitled to make unilateral changes to accrual rates in respect of future service; and what rights scheme members have to object in such circumstances. 
Malcolm Wicks: Employers running occupational pension schemes are subject to their individual scheme rules. Schemes can make unilateral changes to future accrual rates if their scheme rules do not prohibit such changes and the accrual rates continue to meet the minimum requirements set out in the Reference Scheme Test. Unless there are provisions in the scheme rules giving scheme members the right to object, they currently have no right to object.
The Pensions Act 2004 will place a statutory obligation on employers to consult scheme members before making major changes to future pension arrangements. The consultation on draft regulations will start later this year and we aim to implement this requirement from April 2006.
Malcolm Wicks: Poverty is about more than low income; it also impacts on the way people livetheir health, housing and the quality of their environment. The sixth annual 'Opportunity for all' report (Cm 6239), published in September 2004, sets out the Government's strategy for tackling poverty and social exclusion and presents information on the indicators used to measure progress against this strategy.
Specific information regarding low income for the United Kingdom is available in 'Households Below Average Income 199495 to 200203'. Data are not available below the regional level and are available only as proportions at the regional level. It should be noted that the reporting of year-on-year changes in the regional low-income rates are not reliable.
Maria Eagle: Although there is nothing specific to London, there are a number of programmes designed to help disabled people return to work which are available to disabled people within the Greater London area.
The ending of the exclusion from the employment provisions of employers with fewer than 15 staff brings into coverage a further one million small employers with seven million further jobs in which 600,000 disabled people already work.
During 2004 the Department undertook a major campaign to raise awareness of the DDA particularly among small and medium-sized businesses. Around a million businesses were directly mailed information; this was supported by radio advertising, press articles in specialist and trade press and website fact sheets. A free information pack with video is also available and the second presentation of the 'Access All Areas' awards,
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which congratulates small service providers who have made services more accessible, took place in November 2004.
Initiatives which seek to enhance the employability of disabled people include the use of Jobcentre Plus Disability Employment Advisers who visit employers and advise them on the support and help available in the employment of disabled people and the Job Introduction Scheme (JIS) which aims to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities by offering a weekly grant, currently £75 per week, to employers during the first six weeks of their employment.
New Deal for Disabled People (NDDP) is designed to support people in receipt of disability or health-related benefits in finding and sustaining paid employment. It is delivered through a network of Job Brokers across England, Scotland and Wales who agree with each customer what is the most appropriate route into employment for them and work closely with providers of training and other provision where the customer needs additional help. NDDP Job Brokers were introduced in July 2001 and to September 2004 the programme showed 115,930 registrations with Job Brokers and over 54,000 job entries.
Access to Work is a specialist disability programme which provides practical advice and support to help disabled people enter or stay in paid employment. The support is aimed at overcoming work related obstacles resulting from disability. It does this through a system of grants towards the cost of providing support. Access to Work is open to those who are employed as well as people moving out of unemployment and is a highly effective job retention measure.
Work Preparation is a highly flexible programme open to benefit recipients (incapacity or unemployment-related benefits) and non-benefit recipients. It is an individually tailored, work-focused programme that enables disabled people to address barriers associated with their disability and prepare for work with the confidence necessary to achieve and sustain their job goals. The vast majority of Work Preparation programmes take the form of short unpaid work placements.
WORKSTEP was introduced in April 2001 to modernise the former Supported Employment Programme. It provides job support to over 30,000 people in employment and in this financial year up to October 2004 just under 900 clients had progressed into open unsupported work. In 200304 it held a budget of £163 million, and it is delivered by over 200 providers, including Remploy, in England, Scotland and Wales. WORKSTEP is managed by Jobcentre Plus and involves a three-way partnership between the employer, the WORKSTEP provider and a disabled person.
People receiving incapacity benefit can do permitted work and keep benefit in some circumstances. The pre-Budget report announced new national measures for improving permitted work provision including an extension of the initial period of permitted work from
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26weeks to 52 weeks in all cases and an expansion of permitted work provisions to people facing the greatest barriers to full-time employment.
People with the most limiting conditions such as advanced progressive conditions will be covered by a widened version of the permitted work provisions and be able to work for a longer period of time while maintaining their entitlement to benefit. The new measures will improve take-up and provide better support on entry to permitted work through face-to-face meetings with personal advisers including a requirement for clients to consider the prospects of a move into full-time employment, but only where they are able to do so.
Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of (a) Community Care Grants, (b) Crisis Loans and (c) Budgeting Loans in helping homeless people move from temporary to permanent accommodation. 
Malcolm Wicks: There has been no specific study on the effectiveness of the social fund on helping homeless people move from temporary to permanent accommodation. However, we know from more general research that the discretionary social fund is used by people in these circumstances.
DWP research report 139 The use of the social fund by families with children" contains secondary analysis of the Families and Children study and the Family Resources Survey. This study found that moving home is one of the three main trigger events for social fund loan applications and the main trigger event for lone parents. We can guarantee a Budgeting Loan payment to help people in these circumstances, provided the applicant satisfies the eligibility criteria.
Community Care Grants (CCGs) are also available to help people with the cost of setting up home. In particular it is available to people leaving institutional care, families under exceptional pressure, and people taking part in a planned programme of resettlement. These can include former rough sleepers, families fleeing domestic violence and ex-prisoners. However, as the CCG scheme is discretionary and cash-limited, there can be no guarantee of payment.
We believe that the social fund provides valuable support to the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, including those in temporary accommodation, which is why an additional £90 million has been made available to the discretionary fund over the three years 200304 to 200506. This has allowed the Community Care Grant budget to be increased from £108 million in 200203 to £128 million for 200405.
We have recently announced that we intend to abolish the Budgeting Loan 'double debt' rule and reduce the standard repayment rate of 15 per cent. of a customer's benefit to 12 per cent. from April 2006. These changes will make budgeting loans more consistent and easier to understand and access, and will improve the help available to those who are setting up home, in particular many of those who have outstanding social fund debt.
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To support these changes the Social Fund loans budget will be increased by £210 million over the three years 200607 to 200809.
Malcolm Wicks: The Social Fund plays an important role in the Government's commitment to tackling poverty and social exclusion. It provides support to millions of people on low incomes, including some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The Social Fund is continually under review and we have announced a number of improvements. For example, £90 million is being added to the Discretionary Social Fund budget over the three years to 200506.
We have recently announced that we intend to abolish the Budgeting Loan 'double debt' rule and reduce the standard repayment rate of 15 per cent. of a customers benefit to 12 per cent., from April 2006. These changes will make Budgeting Loans more consistent and easier to understand and the Social Fund more effective in assisting those families most likely to experience overindebtedness. To support these changes the Social Fund loans budget will be increased by £210 million over the three years 200607 to 200809.
The Government are also looking at ways in which more affordable loans can be made available to people on low incomes, and is seeking to work in partnership with the private and voluntary sectors to find ways of delivering these, while ensuring that the loans enhance the ability of people to manage their finances responsibly.
Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many Social Fund (a) Community Care Grant, (b) Crisis Loans and (c) Budgeting Loan applications were received in Tower Hamlets in each of the last five years; how many were successful in each case; and what the total expenditure was in each case. 
Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many Social Fund (a) Community Care Grant, (b) Crisis Loan and (c) Budgeting Loan applications were received in each Government office region in 200304; how many were successful in each case; and what the total expenditure was in each case. 
Social Fund data were formerly held at Social Fund District level and are now held at Jobcentre Plus District level. These changes occurred gradually over two years and resulted from a number of boundary changes. Parts of some districts formed parts of one or more Government office regions (GOR) at different times. As such data are not available by GOR.
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(2) what the average time taken by members of the Milton Keynes social fund team to respond to enquiries in relation to (a) new applications to the social fund and (b) old cases was in the last period for which figures are available; 
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your questions concerning the regional review of the Social Fund telephone system for the South East region, the average response times to enquiries made in relation to applications to the Social Fund at Milton Keynes, how many staff there are on the team and their performance against targets for processing new claims since 2001. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
It is not our intention to publish details of the review of the Social Fund telephone system as this is an internal review. However, we would be prepared to share local findings with you once they have been finalised and I have asked the District Manager for the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire district to provide them to you.
AACT is the measure for the time taken to process claims and represents the average time taken to clear all claims over the year The time taken is measured from the date the claim is received to the date it is fully processed.
|April 2002 to March 2003|
|SF crisis loans||100 per cent. same day||98.2 per cent.|
|SF budget loans||95 per cent. within 20 days||99.5 per cent.|
|AACT in 8 days||3.7 days|
|SF community care grants||95 per cent. within 20 days||96.1 per cent.|
|AACT in 9 days(7)||7.2 days|
|SF sure start maternity||95 per cent.||99 per cent.|
|grants||AACT in 5 days||4.4 days|
|SF funeral payments||90 per cent. in 35 days||98 per cent.|
|AACT in 16 days||12.5 days|
|SF accuracy||75 per cent.||76 per cent.|
|April 2003 to March 2004|
|SF crisis loans||Same day||98 per cent.|
|SF budget loans||AACT in 8 days||8.2 days|
|SF community care grants||AACT in 9 days(7)||8.2 days|
|SF sure start maternity|
|AACT in 5 days||9.6 days|
|SF funeral payments||AACT in 16 days||18.2 days|
|SF accuracy||75 per cent.||93.3 per cent.|
|April 2004 to December 2004|
|SF crisis loans||AACT in 2 days(7)||1.27 days|
|SF budget loans||AACT in 8 days(7)||10.97 days|
|SF community care grants||AACT in 9 days(7)||7.87 days|
|SF sure start maternity|
|AACT in 5 days(7)||7.63 days|
|SF funeral payments||AACT in 16 days(7)||16.3 days|
|SF accuracy||75 per cent. (7)||96.7 per cent.|
Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the (a) sickness and absence and (b) turnover rates for Social Fund staff were in the latest period for which figures are available. 
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