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Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which Jobcentre Plus offices were closed in each of the last four years, indicating in each case whether prior to closure the office was open full-time or part-time. 
Mr. Jim Murphy: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question asking which Jobcentre Plus Offices were closed in each of the last four years, and in each case whether prior to closure the office was open full-time or part-time. This is something, which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
I enclose a list of the offices that were closed and have indicated in each case whether the office was open full-time or part-time prior to closure. I have placed a copy in the House of Commons Library.
Firstly, as part of the rollout of the new Jobcentre Plus network we have rationalised our estate. We inherited around 1500 offices from the former Employment Service and Benefits Agency, several of which were unsuitable for the new processes, or were in the wrong place or in a poor state of repair. Often, the former agencies had offices situated at either end of the High Street and, in some instances, neither was suitable for conversion to Jobcentre Plus so we closed one or both of them. In each District we undertook detailed service delivery planning exercises in consultation with local stakeholders, identifying the sites which we would convert to the new standard and those, which needed to close. We also explained how, particularly in more rural locations, we would offer outreach services (flexible service delivery).
Secondly, as a result of our programme to centralise benefit processing we have identified sites which will no longer be viable once processing work has been taken away from them.
Thirdly, we have been looking very closely at the need for public-facing sites in a number of locations. The increased availability of new channels means that Jobcentre Plus customers can access services directly by telephone or Internet rather than needing to call into one of our offices. Reducing expenditure on our office network is part of our wider strategy for focusing resources more effectively on frontline advisory services to help our customers move into work.
The list of closures should also be set against the 837 offices that we have rolled out to date under our restructuring programme, plus over 150 locations where we have installed flexible service delivery arrangements.
I would emphasise that the closure of any of our offices involves consultation with local stakeholders, including MPs, and putting in place suitable alternative arrangements for delivering services to our customers.
I hope this is helpful.
Mr. Jim Murphy: The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your question concerning the steps he is taking to ensure that more staff in Jobcentres are trained to deal with clients suffering from mental illness. This is something which falls within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
As part of the new entrant learning routeway, Jobcentre Plus staff who work directly with customers are provided with Equal Opportunities learning during the first three months in their role. This learning covers support for people with mental illnesses to ensure that our staff deal professionally with all customers.
Additionally Advisers, as part of their job specific learning routeway, receive a two-day learning event for dealing with customers with mental illness. The content of the event is reviewed by specialist organisations such as MIND, to ensure Advisers are equipped with the specialist skills they need to support this particular customer group.
The specific learning needs of existing staff are formally reviewed on a half yearly basis. In the review, consideration is given to increasing staff awareness of disability issues. Where a skills gap is identified, the individual will be provided with the appropriate learning as a matter of priority.
I hope this is helpful.
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions which Ministers from (a) the Department of Health, (b) the Department for Education and Skills, (c) the Department of Trade and Industry, (d) the Department for Transport, (e)
the Department for Communities and Local Government and (f) the Department for Work and Pensions sit on the ministerial group that oversees the work of the Office for Disability Issues. 
(a) Department of HealthParliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Care Services);
(b) Department for Education and SkillsParliamentary Under-Secretary of State;
(c) Department of Trade and Industryhas no representative at ministerial level but officials will be involved in discussions as and when necessary;
(d) Department for TransportParliamentary Under-Secretary of State;
(e) Department for Communities and Local GovernmentParliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Women and Equality);
Department for Communities and Local GovernmentParliamentary Under-Secretary of State; and
(f) Department for Work and PensionsMinister for Disabled People; who is also the chairperson of the group.
Mr. Jim Murphy [holding answer 30 November 2006]: By the end of the year, the Pathways to Work programme will be operating in around 40 per cent. of the country, delivered by Jobcentre Plus. For the remaining 60 per cent. we intend that Pathways will be delivered primarily through contracted providers, from the public, private or voluntary sectors. This will be done in two phases, the first of which will be completed by October 2007. We intend that Phase 2, containing the remaining districts, will be rolled out by April 2008.
Figures have been rounded to the nearest five.
Information Directorate, Industrial Injuries Computer System, 100 per cent. data.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether there are measures in place to prevent Remploy factories employing able-bodied people when there are unemployed disabled people who have the necessary skills. 
Mrs. McGuire: The Department receives assurance that Remploy actively seek to recruit disabled people for all their vacancies. The company will only employ non-disabled people where they need to fill a vacancy to ensure business continuity and there are no existing employees or disabled people with the necessary skills available who can fill that vacancy. Remploy have systems in place to ensure that disabled people have priority in applying for any vacancies with the company.
Whether the applicant has received a qualifying benefit(1) for at least 26 weeks;
Whether the application is for the intermittent expenses(2) within the schemes scope;
Whether the applicant is single, part of a couple, or either with children;
The amount of funding in the loans budget at the time;
The amount of existing budgeting loan debt owed by the applicant;
The amount by which the applicant's/partners savings exceed £1,000 (£2,000 if either is 60 or over);
Whether the award plus any existing budgeting and crisis loan debt exceeds £1,500;
Whether the amount applied for, or the award remaining after the adjustments above, is less than £100;
Whether the award, plus any other budgeting and crisis loan debt held, can be repaid in 104 weeks at a weekly rate affordable(3) by the applicant.
(1) Income support, income-based jobseekers allowance and pension credit.
(2) Furniture and household equipment; clothing and footwear; rent in advance/removal expenses to secure fresh accommodation; improvement, maintenance and security of the home; travelling expenses; expenses associated with seeking or re-entering work; HP and other debts (for expenses associated with the preceding six categories only).
(3) Administrative policy is that this rate will not be more than 20 per cent. of weekly available benefit income. Available benefit income is income support, income-based jobseekers allowance or pension credit plus any child tax credit and child benefit.
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assistance his Department offers to people who require immediate financial assistance but have been on benefits for less than 36 months. 
Mr. Plaskitt: The Social Fund provides for immediate financial assistance in the form of repayable crisis loans, which are available to any one whether or not they are in receipt of any benefit. A crisis loan is interest free and is paid to help meet an immediate short-term need in an emergency or a consequence of a disaster.
Repayable budgeting loans are available to help with routine lump sum expenses. They are interest free and
to be eligible for consideration, applicants have to have been in receipt of a qualifying benefit, income support, income-based jobseekers allowance or pension credit, for at least 26 weeks.
Applicants are also eligible to be considered for a non-repayable community care grant, whose overall aim is to promote care in the community. However, a separate application would need to be made for such a grant. The majority of applicants have to be receiving a qualifying benefit on the date of the application but there is special provision for those applicants shortly due to be released from residential or institutional care.
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the ability of families with children in receipt of benefits to make loan repayments to the Social Fund. 
Assessment of an individual applicant's ability to repay a discretionary Social Fund award is part of the statutory decision-making process followed by officers acting on behalf of the Secretary of State and takes into account the applicants family circumstances.
Mr. Plaskitt: As part of the decision making process, considering the following criteria may result in a partial award on a qualifying discretionary social fund community care grant (CCG), crisis loan (CL) or budgeting loan (BL) application:
Whether a particular need is excluded (CCG, CL);
The budget position (all types);
Existing budgeting loan debt (BL);
Minimum award amounts (CCG, BL);
Maximum debt limits (BL, CL);
Capital resources over a certain limit (BL, CCG);
Any available resources (CL);
Possibility of third party help (CCG, CL);
Affordability (BL, CL).
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how benefits staff (a) interpret and (b) apply the inability to pay criterion in cases where applications for Social Fund loans are rejected on that criterion. 
Applicants for budgeting loans are not offered more than can be repaid, together with any existing social fund loans, over a period of 104 weeks. Where appropriate, applicants for budgeting loans are given choices in the weekly repayment rateso that they can
decide what amount of loan they can afford to repay within the 104-week period.
Applicants for crisis loans who have no source of income at all and no foreseeable prospect of having an income from which to repay, may be refused a crisis loan. Such considerations are a question for the judgment of the decision maker based on all circumstances of the case.
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effects on families in receipt of state benefits of (a) making loans and (b) awarding grants under the Social Fund. 
In 2005-6 almost 3 million grants, loans and other payments were awarded through the regulated and discretionary Social Fund, with a total value of over £900 million (this figure excludes winter fuel payments of £1.9 billion and cold weather payments of £8 million).
The discretionary Social Fund provides valuable support to help the poorest and most vulnerable people meet certain needs, making around 2.5 million payments a year. An independent review of the running of the Social Fund by the National Audit Office published in 2005 found that, in general, the Social Fund is reaching those people who are in most need.
We have undertaken a number of Social Fund research projects to inform our understanding of the impact of the discretionary schemes and our thinking on both short and long term ideas for reform and how best the needs of people on low incomes can be met.
John Battle: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what research his Department has commissioned on the effectiveness in meeting its objectives of the Social Fund in the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement. 
Saving and Borrowing research report 125 published 2000
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