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16. Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): What recent steps she has taken to reduce the level of unemployment; and if she will make a statement. [304077].

The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Jim Knight): We are taking decisive steps to reduce the level of unemployment, as we have been discussing. Since November 2008, the Government have made available £5 billion to provide more support to jobseekers prior to redundancy, when they are newly unemployed, and at the six and 12-month points of their claim.

Mr. Hoyle: My right hon. Friend rightly describes what has been put in place when people are unemployed. Would it not make sense to support people while they are in the workplace? Perhaps we ought to introduce something similar to the ProAct scheme. In that way we will be subsidising people to keep their jobs, rather than retraining them at the jobcentre afterwards.

Jim Knight: Thanks to the extra £5 billion that we are spending, one of the areas of investment has been in the rapid response service, which goes into workplaces and works with those immediately facing redundancy, before they start their claim for jobseeker's allowance, reskilling them so that they can go straight into a different sort of job. In respect of ProAct and whether we should have some kind of wage subsidy scheme, in England we have
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chosen not to go down that road because of other schemes that are in place. We have heard some debate today about its effectiveness or otherwise in Wales.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Can the Minister tell me why, when in 1997 youth unemployment in the Vale of York and across the country was going down dramatically, we now have record levels of youth unemployment in the Vale of York, as well as those 18 to 24-year-olds not in employment or training?

Jim Knight: This may come as a surprise to the hon. Lady, but there has been a global recession. Thanks to that, unemployment has risen, which normally happens during recessions. It has happened during every previous recession, but the measures that have been taken-the £5 billion that we have invested-have lessened the impact of unemployment. We have done considerably better during the present recession than in previous ones.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend urge our right hon. Friend the Chancellor not to cut public spending in the areas of public services and construction in particular, which are labour intensive and should make a considerable contribution to future employment?

Jim Knight: Naturally, we are deep in discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is beyond my pay grade to comment at this point on the outcome of those discussions.

Private Pension Schemes

17. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When she next expects to meet representatives of occupational pension campaign groups to discuss private pension schemes that have been wound up. [304078]

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): My predecessors and I have frequently met representatives of occupational pension campaign groups and trade unions, and I will continue to do so.

Mr. Bellingham: The Minister will know that I represent a number of constituents who are in occupational pension schemes that have failed. That has caused substantial concern and grief. Can she confirm that the financial assistance scheme will pay out the 90 per cent. as promised, without conditions? Can she also confirm that there will be full protection for widows and partners of deceased members of schemes?

Angela Eagle: I am aware that the hon. Gentleman represents areas where there are pensioners in several schemes that have entered the financial assistance scheme because he has been in correspondence with me about that, and I have been more than happy to correspond with him in reply. I can confirm the promise that we issued when we introduced the financial assistance scheme: that members would get 90 per cent. of expected pension, subject to the cap, revalued from the date of wind-up. This is not the pension that they could have expected to retire on if they had continued paying all the way to retirement, but the rights that they had accrued to date.

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Disability Living Allowance/Attendance Allowance

18. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): What plans the Government have for the future of disability living allowance and attendance allowance. [304079]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave earlier to the hon. Members for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) and for Southend, West (Mr. Amess)

Mr. O'Brien: The Minister did, indeed, reply to Question 4, and his response centred on the rising elderly population and on the escalating costs. He rested his case on false accusations of scaremongering, but I have with me a number of letters from real people, showing the vulnerability that they feel in the light of the threatened withdrawal of attendance allowance and disability living allowance. Why do the Government so blatantly discriminate against the over-65s on disability living allowance?

Jonathan Shaw: The arrangements for disability living allowance have been in place for many years, and they precede this Government's entry into office, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, and as I am sure he will tell the people who have written to him. We need to set out a new care system. People want a system that ends the postcode lottery: they want a system whereby, if they move from one town to another, they do not have to battle to receive such services. In my earlier reply, I said that an existent pensioner claimant who is in receipt of attendance allowance or disability living allowance will get the same cash total under the new system. In order to reassure the people who have written to him, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell them that, and not repeat the scaremongering that we have heard from those on the Opposition Front Bench.

Topical Questions

T1. [304086] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): Today, the Secretary of State for Health and I announced a number of publications on mental health conditions and employment. Because of the devastating impact that mental health can have on people and their families, we know that it also costs the economy between £30 billion and £40 billion in lost production, sick pay, NHS treatment and unemployment. We want to do more not only to help people-and their families-who have mental health conditions, but to improve their employment chances, because that is good for the economy, as well as for such individuals and their families. Later this week, the Department will publish its back to work White Paper, with extra help for young people and others who are struggling to find work.

Ann Winterton: But does the Secretary of State recall the parable of the 10 wise and foolish virgins? Would it not have been wiser for the Government to have prevented the £3 billion worth of benefit fraud and overpayment each year, rather than to set up yet another taskforce, which is foolishly 12 years' too late?

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Yvette Cooper: The hon. Lady will realise that the Government have done a huge amount of work to reduce fraud and overpayments. The progress that we have made has been hugely important, but we want to go further, so it is right that we look both throughout the government and in the private sector at how we can go further and build on the very considerable progress that has already been made.

Jessica Morden (Newport, East) (Lab): A constituent of mine, who was successfully helped back into work by the new deal for lone parents, found herself within 3p of losing her carer's allowance when the minimum wage went up in October. What work is the Department doing to synchronise minimum wage rises with the earnings threshold for carer's allowance?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and we are looking at what more can be done to help carers who are often very keen to work, even if they are able to do so for only a limited number of hours, so that they can combine such work with their caring responsibilities. That is one of the issues that we have looked at as part of the back to work White Paper-how we do more to support carers and parents who need more flexible work. I am happy to talk further to my hon. Friend about that issue and the concerns of her constituent.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): May I tell the Secretary of State of a constituent who came to see me on Saturday morning? His partner died on 8 September, and he is having tremendous problems getting the child benefit and tax credits that should be paid over to him. He is in desperate straits, and so are his children-obviously suffering the terrible loss of their mother. If I give the Secretary of State's office the details, will she ensure that the situation is sorted out by Christmas?

Yvette Cooper: I can say that I will look into this immediately. If the right hon. Gentleman gives me the details today, I will get my office on to it straight away. It is important that people are provided with rapid support at a very difficult time. We are trying to work right across government so that, particularly in cases of bereavement, it is possible for people to tell not only our Department but any other area of government, just once, about what has happened so that all areas of government concerned can work together to provide that support rapidly. I am very sorry to hear of the hon. Gentleman's constituent's case.

T2. [304087] Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): This morning, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, I had the pleasure of attending a youth impact project run by Charlton Athletic community trust in partnership with CARE-the Charlton Athletic race equality project. The project works with NEETs-people not in education, employment or training-and it has had a high success rate. We heard some very moving stories from young people who had been through the project. The funding for this successful project comes to an end in March, and it is looking for funding to take the project forward. May I urge the Secretary of State to enter into negotiations with such projects in order to get secure funding?

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The Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform (Jim Knight): I am very encouraged to hear the stories of how successful Charlton Athletic is being in engaging with young people in my hon. Friend's constituency. Last week, I was at Stamford Bridge to take part in the launch of the premier league Into Work initiative, which is trying to do similar things. It might be worth Charlton's linking up with the premier league and Richard Scudamore on that work.

I am happy to discuss funding with my hon. Friend to see whether there is any more that we can do.

T5. [304090] Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): Given the exchanges that we have had on Questions 4, 11 and 18, and the Government's attempts to suggest that nobody who is on existing benefits will suffer, can the Minister give the equivalent promise that those in future need will have equivalent benefits in cash?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): The hon. Gentleman knows that we have a Green Paper, on which we are consulting, to provide- [ Interruption. ] To answer the sedentary question, the problem is that we have an ageing population with increasing demands, and we need to find solutions in order to meet those demands. We have a Green Paper, which we are consulting on, and we are listening carefully to what people have to say. We need to ensure that those who are most vulnerable-those in the greatest need- [ Interruption ] If the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) would listen, I repeat that those in the greatest need require support and care, but all she is doing is scaremongering about elderly people in a vulnerable situation. We will come forward with a national care service that will be popular and will meet the needs of future generations, whereas the Conservatives have a blank sheet of paper and can offer nothing other than-

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Rubbish!

Jonathan Shaw: As the hon. Gentleman says, all they can offer is rubbish.

T7. [304092] Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): The future jobs fund has the potential to provide 134 new jobs in my area after the Conservative-controlled local authority submitting bids to the fund. However, can the Minister help me with a dilemma-namely, how does the position of my local authority square with the position of the Conservative party?

Jonathan Shaw: My hon. Friend knows that the future jobs fund is creating jobs in the Dumfries and Galloway council area in gardening, community development and customer services. I take on board his comments in welcoming it. As for how it squares with the policy of the Conservative party centrally, it does not. The Conservatives opposed the investment, and the borrowing that financed it, which has been spent on the future jobs fund. Without that investment put in by this Labour Government, my hon. Friend would not have those 91 jobs in his constituency.

T6. [304091] Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that poverty, unemployment and repossessions started to rise as early as 2004?

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Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that as a result of the support that we have put in, particularly for those who are at risk of losing their mortgages, the number of repossessions has in fact been considerably lower than people expected at the beginning of the recession. That has helped a lot of families who had lost their jobs and were at risk of losing their homes to stay in their homes and to get additional support, whether from their local council, from the Government, or from their mortgage company. That has been helpful, and it means that we have not been turning our backs on people as the hon. Gentleman's party did in the early '90s.

T8. [304093] Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Despite resistance from the official Opposition, the Access to Work scheme has proven extremely successful in either getting disabled people back to work or getting them the benefits that they are entitled to. However, there remains a problem for people with autism in trying to get back into work or get their benefits. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meet representatives from the National Autistic Society to explore whether the difficulties can be solved?

Jonathan Shaw: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for his commitment to working with people with autism and all disabilities. We seek to provide more opportunities to get into work, and disabled people have seen employment levels rise by about 10 per cent. in recent years, assisted by Access to Work, for which we are doubling the resources to about £138 million, helping about 34,000 people. However, we do need to do more to help people with autism, and I will be pleased to meet him and representatives of the NAS to discuss how we might make Access to Work more flexible and tailor-make it for people such as he refers to.

T9. [304094] David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Despite promises of action back in October, Ministers have continued happily to pay for a family of Afghans to live in a seven-bedroom, £1 million townhouse in west London. Will they now offer the same right to homeless ex-British soldiers living on the streets of London?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): As I said in answer to an earlier question, the number of people being paid exceptionally high levels of local housing allowance, which I agree are not acceptable, is very small indeed. We will bring forward proposals to tackle the problem in our consultation document on housing benefit, but the hon. Gentleman sheds no light whatever on the matter by suggesting that it is somehow to do with immigration.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): On 1 November 2008, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission took over the Child Support Agency, which
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had a woeful record of using its enforcement powers. Can the Minister tell me, if not today then later, how many driving licences were removed in each of the past five years? Was that power ever used?

Helen Goodman: I am sorry, but I cannot give my hon. Friend that information immediately. I will have to write to him. As he knows, that is an additional power that we are using to get more non-paying, non-resident parents to pay the maintenance that they owe their children.

T10. [304095] Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): I sat down at the weekend to help a constituent fill out an application for disability living allowance, and I was appalled at the length and complexity of the form. Have Ministers ever tried filling one out for themselves? If so, what suggestions do they have for making the process far less lengthy and complex?

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He will appreciate the competing demands in any benefit form. On one hand we must get the right information, and on the other we want to ensure that there is no fraud and mitigate against appeals, which we want to reduce. We have recently revised the DLA form for children, which has been welcomed by a number of children's organisations. We keep all benefits under review and work in partnership with a range of organisations that advise us, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and his constituent understand those competing demands.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): In a few moments we will hear more about smarter government. The Department is leading the Government's "Tell us once" programme, which reduces the number of times individuals have to contact Government to tell them about changes that have affected them. How is it going?

Jonathan Shaw: The "Tell us once" initiative has been very effective, bringing together a number of agencies. For example, there has been some excellent work on bereavement in particular, especially children's bereavement, by St. Guy's and St. Thomas's hospital and Lambeth council. We want that successful initiative, which reduces bureaucracy and eases people's pain, to be expanded, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the responses on it that come forward.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Secretary of State be able to offer any Christmas cheer to those of my pensioner constituents who are victims of Equitable Life?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman will know that Judge Chadwick is currently reviewing the circumstances of many people who were affected by Equitable Life, and that there are a lot of problems for a lot of pensioners who have been badly affected. The Government have said that additional support should be given, and we are waiting for Judge Chadwick's response.

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