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Jobseeker's Allowance (Wales)

6. Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): How many jobseeker's allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK, (b) Wales and (c) Clwyd West constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. [321777]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): The claimant count is 1.6 million for the UK; 80,000 for Wales; and 1,748 for Clwyd, West in the most recent figures.

Mr. Jones: The unemployment rate in Wales is not only the worst of any of the home nations, but worse than that of countries such as Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria. Is that a matter of concern to the Secretary of State, or does she share the satisfaction of the Secretary of State for Wales that at least Wales is doing better than Rwanda?

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Yvette Cooper: We are putting in place a lot of additional support for people who have lost their jobs in Wales. That is the right thing to do. We are helping people in Wales back to work significantly faster than was the case in previous recessions. The hon. Gentleman will know that although the figure is 80,000 today, it was 130,000 in the 1990s and 160,000 in the 1980s. I think it is right that we keep up that support.

In fact, I went to Merthyr Tydfil just a few weeks ago to look at the work being done there to support the future jobs fund, and to provide opportunities for people to get back to work as rapidly as possible. We will continue to do that, but we have set out investment for it. The hon. Gentleman's party wants to cut that investment, and that would hit Wales hard.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Just before I ask my question, I should just put the Secretary of State right. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked about incapacity benefit. She was clear that the number of people on incapacity benefit in May 1997 was 2.616 million, and that the latest figures-those of August 2009-show that it is 2.632 million. It has gone up by 16,000 since the Government have been in power, not down, and it may have gone up because the Government's White Paper said that pathways to work-the flagship programme that is supposed to be dealing with this matter-had no employment impact when it was rolled out. The Government's latest research report reveals that there is

the clients who are easiest to get into employment, "parking"-leaving clients who are difficult with no help-and steering people away from helping disengaged clients. We really do need a change. We cannot go on like this. We need a programme that is successful in returning disabled people to work, which is what our "Get Britain Working"-

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Yvette Cooper: The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked about the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's report and about worklessness. The figures relating to the number and proportion of workless households have indeed fallen.

The right hon. Lady also raised the subject of incapacity benefit. As Conservative Members will know, incapacity benefit trebled under a Conservative Government. It rose steadily for about 30 years, and the first falls were a result of the Government's support before the recession. The additional support that we are providing as part of the new work capability assessment and the employment support allowance is also making a difference, making it possible to find more people who are fit for work.

Support for people receiving long-term sickness benefits does need to be improved. We will not only apply the new work capability assessment but increase support for those receiving those long-term benefits as well as the long-term unemployed, because we do not want to see-and are not seeing-the big increases in long-term sickness benefits that were encouraged by the right hon. Lady's party during the last recession.

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Jobseeker's Allowance

7. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many jobseeker's allowance claimants there were in (a) the UK and (b) Wellingborough constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. [321778]

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): The claimant count is 1.6 million nationally and 3,111 in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mr. Bone: I have here a booklet entitled "Britain forward not back", and also entitled "The Labour party manifesto 2005". It can be found in the fiction sections of all good libraries. In bold letters, chapter 1 promises "Low debt and high employment". Instead, we have record debt and high unemployment. Why should we believe any promises made by the Labour party?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman may have missed it, but 18 months ago there was a rather major financial crisis which involved major banks throughout the world nearly crashing to the floor and having to be rescued by national Governments throughout the world. Global trade has shrunk substantially, and as a result every country in the world has experienced recession and an impact on employment.

This Government believe that it was right to support the economy through difficult times. That is why we increased investment, and also why we have kept the unemployment level half a million lower than it was expected to be last year. Billions of pounds have been saved for the Exchequer as a result.

Pension Credit

8. Mr. William Bain (Glasgow, North-East) (Lab): What recent estimate she has made of the average annual change in income for pensioner households which has resulted from the introduction of pension credit. [321779]

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): Pensioner households are currently £600 a year better off on average as a result of increases in income provided by pension credit and its predecessors since 1997. The poorest third of pensioner households are around £1,100 a year better off.

Mr. Bain: Does my hon. Friend agree that another measure that would help to reduce pension poverty is the restoration of the link between earnings and the basic state pension? Will she reaffirm that it is the Government's policy to do that in the next Parliament-in line with the Pensions Act 2007-and also to ensure that the retirement age is not raised until 2024-26?

Angela Eagle: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that that is the Government's policy. Indeed, we have legislated to restore the earnings link within the lifetime of the next Parliament. What we have not done is announce, in an "age of austerity" speech, that we will arbitrarily and suddenly increase the retirement age so that every man over 54 sees his retirement plans ripped up at a cost of £8,000 a year, and every woman is charged an extra £5,000 a year, because they are being forced to work for an extra year.

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Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The Minister will know that pensioners can boost their incomes by paying voluntary class 3 contributions and that the special scheme for women born between April 1938 and October 1944 expires on 5 April. With the deadline coming, there has been a surge of applications. Can she offer me the assurance either today in the House or in writing urgently that people who contact Newcastle to get the detailed and complex information that they need to make the right judgment will be able to pay the money after 6 April, provided they make contact by the deadline?

Angela Eagle: I am happy to say that if we have proof of the contact in a timely fashion, we will be able to ensure that the process goes ahead.

Pension Credit (Take-up)

9. Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): What the rate of take-up of pension credit was in 2009. [321781]

The Minister for Pensions and the Ageing Society (Angela Eagle): The Government are committed to ensuring that pensioners receive all the support they are entitled to. The latest estimate for 2007-08 is that the level of pension credit take-up by caseload is between 61 per cent. and 70 per cent. Take-up of the guarantee credit only, which is paid to the poorest pensioners, is higher, at between 72 per cent. and 81 per cent.

Bob Spink: The House must recognise that the Labour Government have helped the poorest pensioners, particularly with the pension credit and in promising to re-index the basic pension to earnings. I hope that whoever forms the next Government will get on and do that quickly. But the take-up for pension credit is still too low, particularly for the poorest group; about a quarter do not take it up. Can whoever is in government after the election make sure that we automate that payment?

Angela Eagle: I thank the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging the work that has been done to date with regard to pensioner poverty. We have taken 900,000 pensioners out of relative poverty and 1.9 million out of absolute poverty. The figure of 29 per cent. of pensioners in poverty that we inherited when we came into government is now 18 per cent. That is still too many, which is why we have to look at things such as automatic payment. Draft regulations before the House will look at automating pension credit payments on a pilot basis to see whether we can improve the take-up of pension credit, especially by the most vulnerable.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): People over 80 are in particular danger of falling into poverty. What further steps can the Government take to ensure that these people have the help that they need?

Angela Eagle: We try to contact those who are older and may not be taking up their entitlement to pension credit. I am proud to say that we make 13,000 home visits to the most vulnerable pensioners every week. We also ensure that there are higher winter fuel payments for those over 80 and free television licences, not to mention the bus passes and free swimming. I wonder how much of that would survive a change of Government.

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Social Security Fraud

12. Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): How much money was recovered by her Department in respect of fraudulently claimed social security benefits in the last 12 months. [321784]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): We have recovered £23 million-worth of overpayments categorised as fraud in the period from April 2009 to the end of February 2010. We specifically target fraud overpayments and, on the latest figures, 92.6 per cent. of such cases are under active management. At the same time, we continue to bear down on fraudulent claims so that there are fewer fraud overpayments occurring in the first place.

Mark Pritchard: That is a tiny amount compared with the £700 million that the UK taxpayer loses every year to benefit fraud. Only a third of cases make it into court. Some 12,000 people last year were cautioned and only one in 100 was sent to prison. Is it not about time the Government started to take tough action rather than just producing more rhetoric and tough talk only?

Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman has given a rather selective picture of what is going on. Last year the Department for Work and Pensions and local authorities between them caught over 56,000 benefit fraudsters and took a range of actions, including administrative penalties and court action. Consequently the level of recoveries being made now has increased from £180 million to £280 million in the last five years.

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North) (Lab): The fraud figure has fallen from about £2 billion so although it is still too high, there has been some success. At the same time, the level of loss due to overpayments has increased dramatically. What is the Department doing to drive up standards of decision making to deal with that issue?

Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend has a very good understanding of what is going on across the board. In the last four years, the number of identified overpayments has increased from 992,000 to 1.6 million, but the level of official error has fallen as a proportion of the amount of benefit paid out. Next month we will introduce a one-strike provision, which should prove to be a further significant deterrent.

Carer's Allowance

13. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): What plans she has to review the level of carer's allowance in 2010-11. [321785]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Jonathan Shaw): The level of carer's allowance is reviewed annually and uprated in April in line with the September retail prices index. In 2009 the index was negative, so to help carers during the early stages of economic recovery we are bringing forward a 1.5 per cent. increase.

Mr. Cunningham: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but can he give us a time scale for that, and is he aware that many carers are still struggling to make ends
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meet while others do not really know what benefits are available to them? What is he doing to target those people?

Jonathan Shaw: One of the measures we are taking to support carers is the establishment of carers' support managers, who are based in every Jobcentre Plus, and whom I have met, alongside representatives of Carers UK, the Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care. They are making a real difference, bringing together the various carers groups in our communities to ensure that people know what they are entitled to, and assisting them if they wish to find work. That is why we have put aside some £38 million in funding to assist in paying for the care while such people undergo training.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I greatly welcome the Minister's response to that question, and his recognition that there is much more to do to promote the take-up of this benefit, but does he accept that the level of take-up is not yet acceptable? Many more people could be benefiting from the allowance if they knew about it, and the Government need to look further into providing innovative ways of promoting take-up.

Jonathan Shaw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. It is vital that we have improved infrastructure so that our care partnership managers can reach out to, and meet, all the different carers groups. I can certainly put my hon. Friend in contact with the care partnership manager in the Leicestershire area, so he can find out what is being done there to assist carers in getting the benefit entitlement and the advice and support that we very much want to provide to them, as mapped out in the carers strategy that we published a couple of years ago.

Jobseeker's Allowance (EU Claimants)

15. David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Whether she has made a recent estimate of the number of people from EU accession states who are claiming jobseeker's allowance. [321790]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Helen Goodman): The information is not available in the form requested. Accession-country nationals who have worked and paid sufficient national insurance contributions, and who meet the other conditions of entitlement, may be entitled to contributory jobseeker's allowance. Of those who have claimed income-based jobseeker's allowance, it is estimated that 5,647 passed the habitual residence test-the test that must be satisfied to access income-related benefits-in the 12 months to September 2009. However, data on how many went on to receive the benefit are not available, as this information is not recorded by nationality.

David T. C. Davies: Does the Minister find it surprising that thousands of eastern Europeans may well be claiming these benefits given that, despite the fact that we have had 13 years of anti-discrimination legislation, some companies are now allowed openly to advertise that they do not want to employ indigenous British people, but only those of Polish or other eastern European origin? Is that not outrageous?

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Helen Goodman: No, if I can give the hon. Gentleman a little more information, he will understand that his claims are exaggerated, to say the very least. Last year, 162 A2 nationals passed the HRT. The number who passed for claiming income support was 40, the number who passed for making a claim for employment and support allowance was 16, and the numbers from the A8 countries were some 6,000, so the hon. Gentleman should set this in the context of the overall amount of benefits that are paid in this country.

Youth Unemployment

16. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What steps her Department is taking to reduce the level of youth unemployment. [321791]The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Yvette Cooper): I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer to Question 3.

Mr. Speaker: I believe that the Secretary of State wished to group this question with Question 17.

Yvette Cooper: Yes, indeed.

17. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What programmes she has to assist unemployed young people into work. [321792]

Yvette Cooper: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer to Question 3.

Tony Baldry: In north Oxfordshire, we are determined to ensure that no one gets left behind, including those not in education, employment or training-NEETs. May I make two suggestions to the Secretary of State? First, there is a need for greater connectivity between Connexions and Jobcentre Plus. Secondly, most of the businesses in my patch are small and medium-sized enterprises. Can we work out a way of helping them to offer apprenticeships, perhaps by introducing group apprenticeship schemes for SMEs?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman has raised some important points. He might know that we have been working with the Federation of Small Businesses not only on increasing the take-up of apprenticeships among small businesses but on helping them to take on interns, particularly graduate interns. There is a lot more that small businesses could do to help young people, and they are often keen to do so. If the hon. Gentleman is aware of any small businesses and employers in his constituency who might be interested in doing so, I hope that he will direct them to the Backing Young Britain website, which will provide them with the information that they need.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I fully support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). The Federation of Small Businesses has advised Members of Parliament in a press release that some 69 per cent. of apprentices work in businesses with 50 or fewer employees. It has also said that many more apprenticeships could be created if the apprenticeship system were simplified and better promoted. Do the Government agree with that, and what action will they take to meet the views of that very sensible organisation, which represents the seedcorn of future businesses?

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