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20 Feb 2008 : Column 752Wcontinued
I have attached a copy of all the responses received in the consultation on the future of the Chard Jobcentre Plus office copies will be placed in the House of Commons Library. I have deleted the names and address of the correspondents in accordance with data protection guidelines.
I hope this is helpful.
John Hemming: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many applicants for jobseekers allowance have received payments reduced by 20 per cent. while undertaking appeals; and if he will estimate the effect on the public purse of these reductions. 
Mr. Plaskitt: Where a person claims jobseekers allowance (JSA) while they have an ongoing appeal against the removal of incapacity benefit, JSA is paid at the full personal allowance rate, no benefit penalty is applied, but they will not receive any disability premiums unless they qualify for them on alternative grounds.
If they claim income support while they have an ongoing appeal against the removal of incapacity benefit, a 20 per cent. benefit penalty is applied to the personal allowance.
If on appeal the decision is overturned, benefit will be restored in full from the appropriate date.
Mr. Rooney: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the impact on lone parent families of the sanctioning and hardship regime applicable to jobseekers allowance claimants. 
Mr. Timms: There are already a number of lone parents claiming jobseekers allowance (JSA) rather than income support who are able to meet the conditions for receipt of JSA and make use of the help available to get back to work.
We believe the JSA framework is sufficiently flexible to ensure that sanctions will only apply where absolutely necessary and we will ensure that Jobcentre Plus advisers use that flexibility to support lone parents as they make the transition to JSA.
At the start of their claim, lone parents will establish a jobseekers agreement setting out what they will do to get work tailored to their circumstances. Any restrictions agreed between the jobseeker and their adviser on availability and actively seeking work will be included in the jobseekers
agreement. Advisers will also ensure claimants are treated sympathetically when they experience difficult circumstances, for example, lone parents who claim benefit for the first time because of a break-up of a relationship or bereavement.
In Ready for work: full employment in our generation we announced that we would amend regulations to increase Jobcentre Plus adviser discretion so that a lone parent who is claiming jobseekers allowance will not be penalised if they leave a job, or fail to take up a job, because appropriate affordable child care is not available. We will also ensure that at least one attempt is made to contact all parents by telephone it they do not attend their fortnightly jobsearch review. If contact is not made by the customer, a letter will be sent to their home address telling them that if they do not contact Jobcentre Plus within five working days their entitlement to benefit will end or a sanction will be imposed.
We are currently reviewing the hardship regime as it applies to parents in receipt of JSA to ensure that it is appropriate for them and supports the Governments objectives to reduce child poverty.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he expects to answer the letter to his predecessor dated 21 December 2007, from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton with regard to Ms N. Mubarak. 
Mrs. McGuire: I can confirm that a response to this letter was issued my right hon. Friend on 5 February 2008.
Andrew Selous: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many new national insurance numbers have been issued to people in (a) Bedfordshire and (b) South West Bedfordshire constituency in each of the last three years for which figures are available. 
Mr. Plaskitt [holding answer 1 February 2008]: Information on the total number of new national insurance numbers issued is not available at the levels requested.
Bill Etherington: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many full-time equivalent civil servants were employed by his Department in (a) Sunderland, (b) Tyne and Wear and (c) the North East region in each year since 2000. 
Mrs. McGuire: The Department for Work and Pensions was formed in June 2001 bringing together the former Department of Social Security and Employment Service. Information on the number of full-time equivalent Civil Servants employed by the Department in (a) Sunderland (b) Tyne and Wear and (c) the North East region at 31 March each year following its formation is in the following table. The figures are also included as at 31 December 2007, the latest available.
|Sunderland||Tyne and Wear||North East Region|
|n/a = not available|
Figures have been rounded to nearest whole number
Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many pensioners in (a) Milton Keynes and (b) England and Wales receive an income of £217.80 per week or less. 
Mr. Plaskitt: This Government's policies have been highly effective in tackling pensioner poverty.
Between 1996-97 and 2005-06 the proportion of pensioners in relative income poverty has fallen by over a third, with over one million older people being lifted out of relative income poverty.
Relative income poverty is measured as household income net of taxes and housing costs below 60 per cent. contemporary median income. In 2005-06 this stood at the equivalent of £108 for a single pensioner. This is a widely recognised, longstanding definition used for understanding low income pensioners.
Between 1996-97 and 2005-06 the proportion of pensioners living in absolute income poverty has fallen by around three quarters, with more than 2 million older people lifted out of absolute poverty. Absolute income poverty is measured as household income net of taxes and housing costs below 60 per cent. contemporary median income in 1998-99. In 2005-06 this stood at the equivalent of £88 per week for a single pensioner. This is also a widely recognised, longstanding definition used for understanding low income pensioners.
£217.80 is not an appropriate benchmark to indicate the numbers of pensioners living in low income poverty.
The following table shows the number of pensioner units with income below £217.80 (deflated to the respective year's prices) based on both gross income and net income (before taking into account housing costs).
The number of pensioners receiving an income of £217.80 per week or less in Milton Keynes is not available. The closest available information is for pensioner units in the south east region, based on combining three year's data from 2003-04 to 2005-06.
|Pensioner units with income below £217.80 (deflated to respective year's prices), averaged over the years 2003-04 to 2005-06|
|Gross income||Net income|
1. Gross income is income from all sources received by the pensioner unit, including income from social security benefits, earnings from employment, any private pension, and tax credits.
2. Net income before housing costs is gross income less income tax payments, national insurance contributions, contributions to occupational and private pension schemes, local taxes, maintenance and child support payments, and parental contributions to children living away from home.
3. Based on survey data and as such subject to a degree of sampling and non sampling error.
4. All figures are rounded to the nearest 100,000.
5. Due to the small sample sizes involved, three year's data have been combined and the threshold has been deflated to the appropriate year's prices.
6. A pensioner unit is either a single person over pension age or a couple in which at least one person is over pension age.
For reference, on average over the three year period there were 1,100,000 pensioner units in the south east and 7,100,000 in England and Wales.
Paul Rowen: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) how many backdating claims on the grounds of good cause were awarded for periods longer than three months for (a) housing benefit, (b) council tax benefit and (c) pension credit in each of the last five years, broken down by region; what proportion of total claims for each benefit they represented in each year; and if he will make a statement; 
(2) what the (a) total cost to his Department and (b) average payment to claimants was of backdating claims on grounds of good cause that were awarded for periods longer than three months for (i) housing benefit, (ii) council tax benefit and (iii) pension credit in each of the last five years. 
Mr. Plaskitt: The information requested is not available.
Pension credit does not use a good cause rule when determining if a person was eligible from an earlier point in time to the date of claim.
Prior to April 2007, no information was collected from local authorities on the amount of backdating paid out to housing benefit and council tax benefit claimants.
Following the introduction of a new data source this information will become available in the future. However, currently there is insufficient data to be able to estimate the amount spent on backdating.
Mr. Rooney: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether the better off in work credit to be piloted by Jobcentre Plus is planned to take account of the cost of school meals in determining whether a claimant is better off in work. 
Mr. Timms: The introduction of our new better off in work credit (BWC) will allow us to assure qualifying customers that if they move into full-time employment their income from work, including in-work benefits, will be at least £25 a week more than the income they received from out of work benefits.
No additional costs incurred by the movement into work, including the cost of school meals, will be taken into account in calculating whether a customer qualifies for the BWC.
Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many claimants received benefits for more than one wife in the latest period for which figures are available. 
Mr. Plaskitt: The information is not recorded centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Clappison: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what reviews he has conducted of the payment of benefits to claimants in polygamous marriages; what guidelines have been issued in respect of payment of benefits and polygamous marriage; what benefits are payable; what estimate he has made of (a) the number of individuals affected and (b) the cost of payments; what consultations have been carried out, including consultations with other Government departments; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Plaskitt: The current rules for paying benefits to people in polygamous marriages have been in place since 1988. In November 2006 we asked officials to look at the social security benefit rules in place for the treatment of valid polygamous marriages and consider whether any changes were needed. As part of that process the Department consulted other Departments with an interest, such as the Home Office, Treasury, HM Revenue and Customs and the then Department for Constitutional Affairs. The conclusion was that the current arrangements were the best possible.
Contributory benefits are generally not payable where the claimant has more than one spouse. In the income related benefits, subject to entitlement conditions being met, the claimant is entitled to receive the couple rate of benefit for themselves and one spouse, and the difference between the couple and single rate for each additional spouse.
In Great Britain, polygamy is only recognised as valid in law in circumstances where the marriage ceremony has been performed in a country whose laws permit polygamy and the parties to the marriage were domiciled there at the time. In addition, immigration rules have generally prevented the formation of polygamous households in this country since 1988.
We do not collect data on the number of people in a valid polygamous marriage claiming a social security benefit. Information could be provided only at disproportionate cost.
Mark Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will make an assessment of the adequacy of the winter fuel allowance in light of increasing fuel prices; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Mike O'Brien [holding answer 24 January 2008]: Fuel prices rise and fall in response to market conditions. Between 1996-97 and 2005-06 pensioners incomes increased by 29 per cent. in real terms, compared with a 15 per cent. real terms increase in utility bills between 1996-97 and 2006.
The winter fuel payment is worth £200 for households with someone aged 60 to 79 and £300 for households with someone aged 80 or over. Winter fuel bills account for around 60 per cent. of the annual fuel bill. The winter fuel payment provides a significant contribution towards the higher cost of winter heating bills covering around half of the average older persons winter fuel bill.
Norman Lamb: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what the average number of hours of clinical training received by dental students was in each of the last 10 years. 
Bill Rammell: Since 1990 dental students have been required to undertake four years clinical training each comprising a minimum of 46 weeks per annum. Information on the hours of training that the students received is not held centrally.
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