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6 Mar 2009 : Column 1862W—continued

Employment Schemes

Mrs. May: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what back to work support will be offered to lone parents or partners of benefit claimants with children aged (a) nought to two, (b) three to six and (c) over six years old who are not part of the progression to work pathfinders. [255130]

Kitty Ussher: One of the core recommendations from the Gregg Review of conditionality was the creation of a new ‘Progression to Work’ group. Gregg recommends that this new approach should be for those people who may not be ready to work immediately, but who with the right mix of support and encouragement could get back into employment. This model would apply to employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants (other than those in the ESA support group) and lone parents and partners of children aged one to six. The ‘Progression to Work’ pathfinders have been created as a result of this recommendation.

The claimants involved in the ‘Progression to Work’ group will be required to actively engage with their adviser on an ongoing basis to consider, discuss and
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agree an action plan comprising activities they think will improve their prospects of moving back into work. They must then undertake these agreed activities as part of their own journey towards employment following directions from advisers where these are strictly necessary. This will be underpinned with recourse to sanctions for those failing to engage with support without good cause. However, although still in the ‘Progression to Work’ group, lone parents and partners with children aged one and two will be encouraged, rather than required, to undertake work-related activity and will not be sanctioned for refusing to undertake work-related activity.

This pathfinder will cover approximately 10 to 15 per cent. of the new ESA claimants and parents with a youngest child aged between one and less than seven nationally. This equates to roughly 65,000 ESA claimants, 60,000 lone parents and 10,000 partners of benefit recipients each year. These pathfinders are anticipated to begin in late 2010 and last for two years. They are likely to be across six districts and delivery will be a mixture of provider led and Jobcentre Plus led.

Lone parents with children aged less than seven who are not part of the ‘Progression to Work’ pathfinders are required to attend six-monthly work focused interviews where they can access information about voluntary participation in the new deal for lone parents as well as access a wide range of support to help them move into, and remain and progress in, work.

This package of support under new deal for lone parents is also available to lone parents affected by the new benefit requirements introduced in November 2008 for lone parents with older children. However, once a lone parent has been in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance for 12 months, they will switch to contracted flexible new deal provision. This will provide personalised help to all participants, including specialised help for lone parents.

Partners of benefit claimants can also, through mandatory work focused interviews, access information about voluntary participation in the new deal for partners, which provides a similar level of provision to new deal for lone parents such as specialised advice, support and training in helping partners to enter or return to work.

Employment: Disabled

Mr. Harper: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what equality impact assessment has been undertaken on the commissioning of a specialist disability employment programme; what risks have been identified in the procurement process; and if he will make a statement. [259122]

Jonathan Shaw [holding answer 26 February 2009]: An equality impact assessment on the new specialist disability employment programme was undertaken as part of the White Paper “Raising expectations and increasing support: reforming welfare for the future” impact assessment. This was published online in December 2008 at

The equality impact assessment will be regularly reviewed.

The new disability employment programme is being progressed through a formal project within DWP, and the project management process includes identifying
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and managing all potential risks. A number of these have commercial implications, so listing them would not be appropriate at this time.

Members: Correspondence

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions pursuant to the answer of 25 February 2009, Official Report, column 787W, if he will direct his Department to send copies of the responses to the hon. Member for Edinburgh West's letters on behalf of his constituent Joe Shepherd to the hon. Member's constituency office. [261557]

Jonathan Shaw: Copies of both letters were e-mailed to the hon. Member's constituency office on 4 March 2009. Copies were also sent in the post on the same day.

Pensions: Inflation

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to reduce inflation inequality between people of pensionable age and people of other ages. [258813]

Ms Rosie Winterton: The Department for Work and Pensions is required to review all social security benefits each year to ensure they have retained their value in relation to prices (or, for the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit, earnings). Generally the contributory benefits are increased in line with the retail prices index and the income related benefits increased by the Rossi index which is the retail prices index with the housing elements removed.

The retail prices index takes account of changes in the cost of a wide range of goods and services and reflects the average increases in costs that people face year-on-year. Increasing benefits in line with this measure ensures that benefits keep their real value in broad terms.

The new rates that will come into force from April have been increased in line with inflation as measured last September, when the retail prices index was 5 per cent. and the Rossi index was 6 per cent. These increases are, against a backdrop of falling inflation, in line with the highest increase in inflation last year. The increase in the standard minimum guarantee in pension credit to £130 for single pensioners (£198.45 for pensioner couples) represents the highest up-lift since it came into force in 2003.

The Department recognises that different groups may currently be experiencing varying levels of inflationary pressure and is aware that the Office for National Statistics produces a quarterly ‘Pensioner Prices Index’ that relates to pensioners who derive more than 75 per cent. of their income from state benefits. This measure is not used to increase pensioner benefits because it is not representative of the whole pensioner population, therefore the Department does not consider that pensioner benefits should be up-rated in a different way to benefits for other age groups.

Pensioners have received additional winter fuel payments this year that have increased the payments to £250 for households with someone aged 60-79 and £400 for households with someone aged over 80.

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Furthermore, the Department has also increased the Christmas bonus from £10 to £70 and increased the cold weather payment from £8.50 to £25 this year. This additional support goes to entitled recipients of both pension age and working age and provides direct financial support to help vulnerable groups through the economic downturn.


Annette Brooke: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what recent discussions he has had with representatives of Remploy on their future plans; and if he will make a statement. [261669]

Jonathan Shaw: Ministers have regular dialogue with Remploy about progress in delivering their modernisation plan and their future strategy. In particular, the Minister for Disabled People is working very closely with Remploy on the implementation of their modernisation plan. This includes chairing a cross-Government ministerial group on public procurement.

Social Fund

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what percentage of social fund loan applications were processed within the target actual average clearance time in the last 12 months. [260862]

Kitty Ussher [holding answer 5 March 2009]: The available information is given in the following table.

Percentage of s ocial fund loan applications processed within the average actual clearance time standard in Great Britain

Budgeting loans Crisis loans







































(1 )Not available. Notes: 1. The average actual clearance time standard for budgeting loans is six working days and for crisis loans is two working days. 2. The clearance time for an individual loan application is measured in whole working days from the date the application is received until the date the decision is taken on whether to make a loan offer, plus, if a loan offer is made, the number of whole working days between receiving the applicant's reply to the offer and the recording of that reply. The minimum clearance time recorded for an individual loan application is one working day, even if the application is cleared immediately. Source: DWP Social Fund Policy, Budget and Management Information System.

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Social Security Benefits: Coastal Areas

Chris Ruane: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what the (a) benefit and (b) incapacity benefit was in (i) each principal seaside town, (ii) each lower layer super output area in each principal seaside town and (iii) the UK (A) in 2004 and (B) at the latest date for which figures are available. [244426]

Jonathan Shaw: The available information has been placed in the Library.

Social Security Benefits: Databases

Paddy Tipping: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what (a) data matching and (b) data accuracy software his Department uses to ensure that databases used to support the benefit system are accurate. [251624]

Jonathan Shaw [holding answer 29 January 2009]: Information Directorate utilises data internally transferred from benefit paying systems and a number of other sources. Those data sets are matched to highlight inconsistencies and anomalies. The software used for data matching is currently Excel, Access and SAS. Information Directorate also utilises the skills of its IT contractors (EDS) to undertake certain matching exercises on its behalf. The results of such matching exercises form the information basis for further investigation into the accuracy of claims on the benefit systems.

The Department's benefit systems have a number of internal control mechanisms and processes, and are in some cases self-validating. This ensures that, where possible, data fields cannot be populated with incorrect or anomalistic data. The Department also utilises audit techniques to assure the accuracy of its benefit paying systems.

Winter Fuel Payments

Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (1) what steps he is taking to increase the take up of the winter fuel allowance, with particular reference to men aged between 60 and 65 years; [258685]

(2) how many people in Newport West constituency (a) were eligible to claim and (b) claimed the Winter Fuel Allowance in 2007-08. [258684]

Ms Rosie Winterton: The vast majority of winter fuel payments are made automatically based on information held in DWP records, without the need to claim. A small proportion of people whose circumstances we do not know, because they are not on state pension or other benefits administered by DWP, do need to make a claim so that their eligibility can be assessed.

For people newly eligible and not in receipt of a benefit administered by DWP, for example men aged 60 to 65 who are in work, we can only determine eligibility once they have submitted the relevant information on a claim form. We send claim forms to customers approaching 60 who we have identified as becoming potentially newly eligible from DWP records, but are not at that time in receipt of state pension.

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To raise awareness of eligibility of winter fuel payments and, where appropriate, the need to make a claim each year, we run an extensive advertising campaign and series of press releases in regional and national newspapers. We also make reference to winter fuel payments in government leaflets. The claim form is available on the Pension Service website, with full details available on the Direct Gov internet site.

It is therefore not possible to say how many people may be eligible for a winter fuel payment and are not receiving it. We can only assess eligibility for those people who are in contact with the Department and whose circumstances are known to us.

In winter 2006-07, the last year for which figures are available, 16,720 people in the Newport, West constituency received a winter fuel payment.


Blood: Contamination

Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will hold a public inquiry into the infection of haemophiliacs with hepatitis C and HIV due to the use of contaminated blood by the NHS. [261080]

Dawn Primarolo: We have considered the call for a public inquiry very carefully. However the Government do not consider a further inquiry is justified as it would not add to current knowledge about how infections happened or the steps taken to deal with the problem.

Although the Government do not accept that any wrongful practices were employed, successive Governments have acknowledged the tragic circumstances surrounding infection in recipients of blood and blood products. That is why ex-gratia payment schemes were established.

Danny Alexander: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make it his policy to pay compensation to haemophiliacs infected with hepatitis C and HIV following the use of contaminated blood by the NHS. [261081]

Dawn Primarolo: The Department has set up three ex gratia payment schemes for those infected with Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or hepatitis C through national health service treatment—the Macfarlane Trust, the Eileen Trust and the Skipton Fund Ltd.

The Macfarlane Trust was set up in 1988 to establish a hardship fund to assist haemophiliacs who contracted HIV following treatment with blood products on the NHS.

The Eileen Trust was set up in 1993 as a charitable trust to assist people other than those with bleeding disorders, who had contracted HIV through NHS treatment with contaminated blood products.

The Skipton Fund Ltd was set up in 2004 as an ex gratia payment scheme for patients infected with hepatitis C through NHS contaminated blood and blood products, provided the patient was alive on 29 August 2003.

The Department is giving Lord Archer's report the consideration it deserves and will respond as soon as it has done so.

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