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Hampton Report

21. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): If he will make a statement on progress in implementing the Hampton report on reducing the number of Government agencies. [34453]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): The Hampton report is a central part of the Government's better regulation agenda. Good progress has been made on implementation. The timetable for change set out in Philip Hampton's report will be met.

Dr. Cable: I welcome the Government's commitment to cut the number of inspection agencies from 31 to seven—11 to four in the public sector. However, can the Minister answer this question, which Philip Hampton posed but never got an answer to: how many forms are circulating in public sector agencies that private individuals and companies have to fill in?

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for asking the most helpful question so far. He is right to talk about the reduction in the number of inspectors and regulators that the Government are determined to achieve. The reason no answer can be given by Mr. Hampton and others is that no one in Government has known in the past or knows today. That is why we launched the administrative burden inquiry, which is continuing to identify the level of bureaucratic burden across Government. Once we have done that, we will set ambitious targets for annual reductions. We will have more to report on that in due course.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): Later today, we shall discuss the London Olympics Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree that the lessons of Hampton should be extended to the sports world? Will he ensure that when money is paid through Government agencies for, in particular, grass-roots sport, the burden is lifted so that people—especially volunteers—can deliver the services that we want rather than having to spend their time filling up forms and dealing with unnecessary bureaucracy?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is, of course, right. We were elected on the same day, and in the seven or eight years since then he has continued, in a dogged and determined way, to champion local and national sport. That is, quite properly, recognised in his constituency. He is also on the ball, if I may put it like that, when it comes to the regulation of charities and voluntary and public sector organisations. It is important to lighten the load—the bureaucratic burden—and to reduce duplication, not just in the private sector but in the voluntary and charity sectors, and among those who are working on the 2012 Olympic plan.
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Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Four weeks on, there is still no Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Does that not show that the Government simply are not serious about deregulation, modernising public services or cutting bureaucracy? Does it not show that the Chancellor in No. 11 is in charge, and is the roadblock to reform? Will the Minister promise us that when the Government do get around to implementing the recommendations for a reduction in the number of agencies, they will not just carry out a shuffle and a merger but will cut the costs, cut the regulations and cut the forms? Can the Minister tell us how many fewer forms there will be, how much money will have been saved and by how many million of pounds the burden will have been reduced in a year's time?

Mr. Murphy: "Four weeks on, there are still no better questions" is another way of looking at the position—or "no better rant".

We are learning the lessons of the failures of past Conservative Governments. By their own admission, the bureaucratic burden soared, and the right hon. Gentleman himself is on record as recognising detailed and strategic failings on better regulation. The Cabinet Office has consulted on a Bill on better regulation, and we will publish the outcome of that consultation shortly. Work is being done to reduce administrative burdens, and we have introduced a system enabling businesses themselves to suggest simplification measures. Within a year, each Department will present the details of simplification proposals. The Department of Trade and Industry has published a plan that will save £200 million a year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also published a plan, and the Treasury has announced specific ways of reducing the bureaucratic burden.

May I end by saying—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps the Minister will write    to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).

Government Workers (Redeployment)

22. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab): What level of retraining and reskilling he proposes to offer to Government workers who will be redeployed. [34454]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office (Mr. Jim Murphy): The Government have implemented and are currently embedding a common approach to the handling of consequences of the efficiency and relocation reviews. Departments offer advice, support, retraining and reskilling to staff to help them prepare for future career moves.

Jim Cousins: At the Department for Work and Pensions alone, 14,000 jobs have gone. That affects areas such as Tyneside. We now know that it is the lowest-paid and least qualified workers who lose their jobs. The most that the Government offer those workers—and very few of them get it—is the opportunity of refresher courses. When will we see the programmes that can relaunch working lives, and build the skills and qualifications that those low-paid, loyal workers need for the future?
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Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right: we have a responsibility both to those who are currently employed in the civil service and to folk who, as a result of the relocation agenda envisaged in the 2004 spending review, may no longer be so employed. That is why we have organised training and reskilling, and are working with recruitment organisations throughout the country.
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If my hon. Friend has specific concerns about what is happening in the DWP in the north-east, I shall be happy to meet him and discuss them or to take them up with ministerial colleagues, but the Cabinet Office has a corporate set of rules on reskilling, and is    responsible for advising Departments on their implementation.

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Benefits Uprating and Welfare Reform

3.34 pm

The Minister for Pensions Reform (Mr. Stephen Timms): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on benefits uprating in the context of the Government's continued fight against poverty and our ambitious programme to renew the welfare and pensions systems.

I shall place full details of the uprating in the Vote Office and arrange for the figures to be published in the Official Report. I can confirm that most national insurance benefits will rise by the retail prices index, which is 2.7 per cent., and that most income-related benefits will be uprated by Rossi, at 2.2 per cent.

From next April, retirement pension will go up by £2.20 a week for single pensioners and by £3.55 a week for couples. When we were elected, the pension was just £62.45 for a single person. From April, it will be £84.25 for a single person and £134.75 for couples. That is a real-terms rise of 8 per cent. since 1997. Next year, the guarantee credit of pension credit will rise in line with earnings, so that no single pensioner need live on less than £114.05 a week and no couple on less than £174.05 a week. The threshold for the savings element of pension credit will be uprated so that it remains equal to the basic state pension. That means that a typical single pensioner will now gain from pension credit with an income of up to £158.75 a week, while a typical couple will gain on income of up to £233 a week.

Nearly 3.3 million pensioners are now in receipt of pension credit, with an average weekly award of around £43. We are reaching more people and ensuring that they get their entitlements. Following the introduction of pension credit, about 2 million pensioner households now qualify for more help, or qualify for help for the first time, with their council tax or rent. From this week, pensioners can make a single phone call to claim all three: pension credit, housing benefit and council tax benefit. That will be a very welcome simplification.

By targeting resources at the least well-off pensioners, we have succeeded in lifting nearly 2 million pensioners out of absolute poverty since 1997. We now spend an extra £11 billion a year on pensioners, with almost half of the extra spending going to the least well-off third. Had we simply increased the basic state pension in line with earnings, only just over a quarter of that extra spending would have gone to the least well-off third, who would have been £30 a week worse off than they are under these measures. On average, pensioner households are now £1,400 a year, or £27 a week, better off in real terms than they would have been under the 1997 system, with the least well-off third of households £1,900 a year, or £37 a week, better off in real terms.

As well as tackling the dreadful legacy of pensioner poverty that we inherited, we have also helped all pensioners and will continue to do so. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor confirmed yesterday that the winter fuel payment would be £200 for every year of this Parliament. He also announced that he would be setting aside an additional £300 million over the next three years, so that the Government's warm front programme can offer pensioner households on pension credit free installation of central heating, and all other pensioner households without central heating a contribution of
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£300 towards the cost of installing it. He also announced further help with the cost of insulation. I believe that the whole House will welcome those announcements.

We have now reached the unprecedented position in which pensioners are no more likely to be poor than any other group in society. That is a particularly remarkable achievement after a period in which earnings have grown so fast, thanks to the stability and steady growth that we have enjoyed in the economy since 1997. We need now to introduce further reform to ensure that our pensions system continues to deliver for future generations of pensioners, as it is doing for today's. So we warmly welcome the broad framework of the Pensions Commission's proposals and options, which were published last week. We believe that they will provide the right basis for building the consensus that we need, but there is still a great deal to be discussed and debated about the detail.

Yesterday, I issued a challenge to the pensions industry. It believes that it can produce an industry-led model that will meet the Turner objective of enabling everyone to save for a pension at low cost, while outperforming the one proposed in the report. I have therefore asked the industry to work up the details of its alternative approach by early February, ahead of a joint national pensions debate event between industry and Government, when those proposals can be closely examined. In the same way, as we embark on a major new consultation exercise involving every section of our community, we shall scrutinise the commission proposals and options, debating the best ways to achieve the objectives that the commission set out and to deliver a lasting pensions settlement.

If we are to meet the challenges of an ageing society and permanently eradicate poverty in retirement, we also need to address the inequalities during people's working lives. That is why our record in tackling child poverty is so important. It is why we are committed to supporting families in work, why our welfare reforms and our aspiration for an 80 per cent. employment rate are so important, and why we want to see a modern, active and inclusive welfare state. We have lifted more than half a million children out of relative low income since 1997. Twenty million people, including just over 10 million children, are benefiting from tax credits, and the child tax credit, which will also increase by earnings, is benefiting 6 million families.

The standard rate of maternity allowance and statutory maternity pay will be increased by the RPI to £108.85 a week. Whereas in 1997 the maximum maternity pay and child benefit payment for mothers at home with their first baby was just £2,610 for the first year, by 2007 it will rise to £8,300—a real-terms increase of more than £5,000. In addition, the Work and Families Bill, which received its Second Reading yesterday, introduces a new entitlement to statutory paternity pay to enable a father to take time off work and to receive statutory pay instead of his partner if she returns to work early. That gives parents greater choice in how they balance their work and caring responsibilities in the first year of their child's life. For the sixth successive year, we are freezing non-dependent deductions to relieve the pressure on low-income parents who are accommodating their adult children.
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Work is the best route out of poverty. There are now more people in jobs in Britain than ever before—2.3 million more than in 1997. Unemployment is at its lowest for nearly 30 years, with long-term youth unemployment 90 per cent. lower than in 1997. In just 12 months, employment has risen by 330,000 to 28.8 million, and is the highest in the country's history. It has risen in every region and nation of the UK. The lone parent employment rate has increased by 11 percentage points since 1997, and nearly 1 million lone parents are now in work, while the number on income support has fallen by more than 200,000 since 1997.

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said yesterday, we are not going to abolish the new deal; we will strengthen it. We will offer learning agreements for teenagers in eight areas of the country, extend the new deal pilots to help lone parents back to work, and pilot personal action plans for those unemployed for six months or more. Our new deal for disabled people has seen nearly 75,000 job entries since its launch in 2001, with 200,000 disabled people helped into work through our total package of new deal programmes.

We are seeing very encouraging early results from the pathways to work pilots. In the first year of those, the number of recorded job entries for people with a health condition or disability almost doubled compared with the same period the year before. Their continued success has driven a significant rise in the proportion of customers leaving incapacity benefit in the first six months of their claim, compared with non-pilot areas. Overall, on a national basis, that early success would be      equivalent to about 150,000 incapacity benefit claimants being helped into work each year. That success has underpinned our achievements in helping people off incapacity benefit, with new cases now down a third since 1997 and the first falls in the total count, which fell by 41,000 in the year to May 2005.

In March, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 completed the most far-reaching programme of disability rights legislation that any European country has put in place. It fulfilled our manifesto commitment to deliver enforceable and comprehensive civil rights for disabled people, and is a major landmark in enabling disabled people to live independently, fully recognised and respected as equal members of society.

Last week, on the international day for disabled people, we launched the new Office for Disability Issues. From this week, the Disability Discrimination Act extended protection from discrimination to another 250,000 people. However, we are not stopping there. In January, our Welfare Reform Green Paper will go further in tackling exclusion from economic activity and independence across the working-age population.

In April, we shall take further steps to break down the barriers that face older workers. The radical tax simplification that comes into play on A-day will do much to help. The Pensions Act 2004 continues to improve the rewards for those who choose to delay taking their state pension—even for only a short period—and, in April, the first people will benefit from the new option of a lump sum for state pension deferral, which could be worth more than £5,000.
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In the spring, our White Paper will seek to lay the basis for a consensus on a lasting pensions settlement. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor also announced yesterday a change to the treatment of charitable, voluntary and personal injury income payments in income-related benefits. They are already disregarded in pension credit and pension-age housing benefit and council tax benefit. To simplify the system further and encourage the work of charities, they will be disregarded from October next year in assessing all eligibility for income support and jobseeker's allowance. There will also be a 52-week grace period for lump sum personal injury payments when assessing entitlement to income support, jobseeker's allowance and working-age housing benefit and council tax benefit.

This year's uprating continues our commitment to promoting opportunities for the many, not the few. It contributes to our programme of reform, which balances rights with responsibilities and offers everyone the opportunity to build a decent income for their retirement. It takes another big step away from the legacy of pernicious poverty, which we are determined should never return.

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