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14 Jun 2010 : Column 587

Mr Duncan Smith: I can guarantee to my hon. Friend that that is exactly what we will try to do. It is not the easiest set-up. There will be changes later in the year to the CSA, but I can promise him that we want it to make sure that those who owe that money pay it. The previous Government let them off the hook.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): It is the Government's stated intention to cut all quangos and non-departmental bodies by 20 per cent. How will the right hon. Gentleman better enforce the payments by absent parents when the budget for the commission is being cut?

Mr Duncan Smith: There are already plans for the organisation to make sure that it improves the quality of its work. It was set up to make sure that absent parents, for whom we all have to pay because they are not paying their way, ante up to their responsibilities, which is good both for their children and for the whole of society.

Departmental Pay Rates

6. Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): If he will bring forward proposals to ensure that all staff of his Department are paid at a rate of at least £7.60 per hour. [1856]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): The figure of £7.60 per hour to which the hon. Lady refers was the London living wage until last week, and I can confirm that all directly employed DWP staff in London are paid £7.60 or above and, indeed, are paid more than the new London living wage of £7.85 announced by the Mayor of London on 9 June.

Lisa Nandy: I am sure the Minister is aware of the economic as well as the moral case for the living wage that was most recently advanced by the Mayor of London. In the light of that, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that as well as the directly employed staff, contracted-out staff in his Department, such as cleaners, will also be employed on the living wage because they do such important work for the people of this country?

Steve Webb: The hon. Lady is right to point to the position of contracted staff. She will be aware that long-term private finance initiative contracts were entered into by the Labour Government which involve paying people less than the living wage. We have inherited that practice. However, I understand that Telereal Trillium, with which we have our principal contract, including for cleaners, has an agreement with the relevant trade unions to pay higher rates on new tenders.

Child Poverty

7. Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): What steps he plans to take to reduce child poverty. [1857]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): Section 14 of the coalition document confirms the Government's commitment to ending child poverty in the UK. We believe that the best way to tackle this issue is to address the root causes of poverty, because it is only by doing this that we can improve outcomes for children in the most effective way. Over the next 12 months we will put in place a robust, sustainable strategy to end child poverty.

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Stephen Mosley: It is impossible to look at the situation of a child without looking at their family situation. To that end may I highlight the pioneering work that is being done by Save the Family in Chester and north Wales under the leadership of Edna Speed MBE? Has the Minister any plans to encourage the expansion of such pioneering family-based schemes across the country?

Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for bringing the important work of Save the Family to the attention of the House. I am familiar with the project in north Wales, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited it. Keeping families together is important, and I will do all I can to encourage colleagues who are considering child poverty across Government to consider the work being carried out by Save the Family. Family stability is vital and I am sure it will form part of the strategy that we work on to end child poverty.

Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North) (Lab): One of the root causes of child poverty is teenage pregnancy. Before he assumed office, the Secretary of State-I congratulate the team on their new positions-did important work on the links between poverty and teenage pregnancy. What talks were held last week with the Secretary of State for Education before he announced cuts to local authority education and children's budgets, which will, among other things, undermine the future of teenage pregnancy projects?

Maria Miller: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Teenage pregnancy is a critical part of the poverty strategy and one of the issues that will be considered in the cross-departmental Cabinet Committee on social justice which we will establish. It is important for the House to remember that, under the previous Government, not enough progress was made on that matter, but we will put that record right.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Can the Minister confirm that the decision taken in recent days not to extend entitlement to free school meals to primary school children whose parents are on working tax credit will mean 50,000 more children living in poverty than otherwise would have been? Yes or no?

Maria Miller: We should be absolutely clear that the rules for determining eligibility for free school meals have not changed, and all pupils who currently qualify for free school meals will continue to be eligible. The issue was dear to the hon. Lady's heart and something that she pushed forward when she was in government, and I should like to reassure her that there are pilots in place in Newham, Durham and Wolverhampton to see whether there is a robust case for extending free school meals. We feel that the extension was prematurely announced, without evidence from the pilots, so I ask her why, if she felt so strongly about the issue, she did not push it forward earlier in the 13 years of a Labour Government.

Unemployed Disabled People (Welfare Support)

8. Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): What his policy is on the provision of support for people who are unable to work as a result of a disability. [1858]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Miller): The Government recognise that some people will not be able to work, or prepare for work, because of a disability. Those people will receive unconditional support and be able to have help to find employment on a voluntary basis. Financial support for those who are unable to work will be through cash benefits, such as the disability living allowance and the employment and support allowance, replacing incapacity benefits.

Tracey Crouch: I thank the Minister for her reply. Royal British Legion Industries, based in my constituency, provides an important service to people with disabilities. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will use the expertise of such organisations to help people with disabilities get back to work?

Maria Miller: I thank my hon. Friend for her question and also pay tribute to the Royal British Legion and its work, because it plays a vital role in supporting disabled people into work and helping those who are furthest from the workplace to acquire the skills that they need. The specialist knowledge of such organisations is absolutely vital and will be an important part of the Work programme that the employment Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) has already announced, because those organisations have the on-the-ground knowledge of how best to support disabled people.

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): As a former Minister for disabled people, I wish the Minister well in standing up for the rights of disabled people throughout government. Will she therefore tell me what plans there are for the access to work programme? Will the Government honour the previous Government's commitment, or will access to work disappear amid the one, single Work programme?

Maria Miller: I thank the right hon. Lady for her kind comments and congratulate her on the work that she has done to support disabled people. It is absolutely vital that we recognise that a reform of work programmes in this country is long overdue. The Work programme will meet a great many people's needs, but not absolutely everybody's, so specialist programmes such as residential training colleges, Remploy's work and others will continue in order to meet the needs of particular disabled people.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): In looking at the support for those with disability, will the Minister ensure that the work capability test is reviewed in order to see how it applies to cancer patients facing chemotherapy? At the moment, they seem to be assessed as fit for work when they are quite clearly going to be unfit and unable to work.

Maria Miller: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. That group will be exempt under the scheme, and it is important to note that the work capability assessment will be reviewed annually for the first five years of its operation.

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): I should like to welcome all Ministers to their positions on the Government Front Bench. Does the Minister agree with me and her colleague the pensions Minister that it is important to ensure that those who cannot work for reasons of
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disability or age receive all the benefits to which they are entitled, and that the 13,000 home visits a week that the DWP local service currently makes to vulnerable households play a vital role in ensuring that that is the case? Does she agree also that, if the local service is cut in the spending review, the most vulnerable households will be the hardest hit?

Maria Miller: Looking after the most vulnerable groups in society is absolutely at the heart of the work that we do in the Department. I reassure the hon. Lady that when we are reviewing services, whether at a local or national level, we keep that very much in mind.

Long-term Deprivation

10. Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): What his policy is on measures to encourage people into work in areas of long-term deprivation. [1860]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Many people in areas of long-term deprivation are also long-term benefit recipients. We will introduce the Work programme to give those benefit recipients access to tailored back-to-work support through an integrated system. Within that, we are actively considering how best to support those with complex barriers to work.

Simon Kirby: I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that many of Labour's top-down schemes, such as the new deal for communities in the areas of Moulsecoomb and Whitehawk in my constituency, have failed to deliver any real difference to people's lives, despite having cost tens of millions of pounds? Does he also agree that this new Government's empowerment of individuals and communities is a much more sensible way forward?

Steve Webb: Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right. We want to see an end to top-down, "Whitehall knows best" government. We want to see local communities and voluntary groups empowered and enabled to provide tailored solutions for individuals and local communities.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Labour in government had planned and funded 50,000 jobs for older people in areas of high unemployment and high deprivation under the future jobs fund. Will the Minister confirm how many of those jobs will be scrapped and what, if anything, will be put in their place?

Steve Webb: As the hon. Lady knows, jobs that are already contractually bound will go ahead. However, she falls foul of the old new Labour fallacy-that just because the Government temporarily fund a job, that makes it into a real, lasting job. I am afraid that life is not like that; the Government's payment of a temporary subsidy does not make a permanent job. We will be investing in long-term, sustainable employment, which will benefit older people far more.

Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) (LD): My constituents in Burnley suffer more deprivation than most, with areas of high unemployment left to rot by the previous Government. Will the Minister ensure that the Department managing the apprenticeships scheme looks into areas such as Burnley to ensure that they are given a fair chance of providing apprentices for the future?

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Steve Webb: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Part of the reason why he is here in this House, apart from his highly effective campaigning, is the record left by the Labour Government in Burnley and similar constituencies. The new apprenticeships will indeed go to areas such as my hon. Friend's constituency, where they will provide training that leads to lasting jobs, which are what we want to be provided.

Youth Unemployment

11. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): What steps he plans to take to reduce levels of youth unemployment. [1861]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): Youth unemployment is unacceptably high. We will introduce the new single Work programme in the first half of 2011, which will offer young people targeted, personalised help. That will be delivered through the best of private and voluntary sector providers. We will ensure that young people continue to have access to employment support prior to the implementation of the Work programme.

Jon Trickett: I thank the Minister for that reply. The Tories are the party of mass unemployment; they had left thousands of young people in long-term unemployment in the mining areas and elsewhere in this country when they were turfed out of office in '97. Will the Minister confirm last week's authoritative report that said that the fiscal strategy that the coalition is adopting will lead to there being another half a million people-many of them young people-in the dole queues for at least the rest of this Parliament?

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman ought to remember that the level of youth unemployment today is higher than it was in 1997, when the Labour party took office. He should also remember that year after year, despite all the last Government's promises about apprenticeships, which could have provided long-term, sustainable opportunities for young people, the Labour Government consistently missed their targets and promises for apprenticeships. We will take no lessons from Labour about youth unemployment.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): When the Minister is looking at the issues involved in providing more jobs for the young unemployed, will he consider the impact of the Pension Protection Fund, particularly on long-standing manufacturing companies, which may be inhibited from providing new apprenticeships by their future commitments to the PPF?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), will be considering that. It is important to provide the right balance between protecting the pensions of those whose pension provision for old age may be at risk and ensuring that we do not drive businesses out of business as a result. We will be looking at this carefully and attempting to find the right balance.

Mr Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Does the Minister accept that the future jobs fund offered real opportunities for the young people who were drowning in the prospects of employers' refusal to give them work while at the
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same time it provided the Government with their only genuine test of whether somebody really wanted to work? Why, therefore, is it being cut when no other Government programme will achieve both those objectives?

Chris Grayling: The right hon. Gentleman knows that what his constituents and other people on Merseyside really need is sustainable, long-term opportunities. The future jobs fund will continue to offer tens of thousands of opportunities over the next few months, but what the young people of Merseyside really need is apprenticeships that can take them into proper long-term opportunities. That is what this Government will provide.

Youth Unemployment

12. Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): How much funding he expects to allocate to programmes for the young unemployed in 2010-11. [1862]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Chris Grayling): We have allocated more than £600 million for programmes to support unemployed young people back to work. That includes the cost of specific employment support programmes targeted at young people and the support provided through the flexible new deal.

Jim Sheridan: I thank the Minister for that response. According to a recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses, 95% of businesses are unaware of the wage contributions that are on offer to train apprentices. Indeed, 69% of apprentices work in workplaces where there are 30 or fewer employees. The same research has revealed that even more apprenticeships could be created if the system were simplified or modified.

Chris Grayling: I am all in favour of systems being as simple as possible. One of the things that I aim to ensure will happen when we introduce the single Work programme is that providers build links with local employers and explain to employers the support and opportunities that exist. We need to ensure that we maximise the employment opportunities that are out there for people without work, whether young or older.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): The Secretary of State made great play of the idea that the best way to get people into work and off benefits is to make work pay. What will the coalition Government do to achieve that-cut benefits or increase in-work support?

Chris Grayling: First, I congratulate the hon. Lady on her election to the position of Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee. My colleagues and I look forward to meeting her and her Committee in the weeks ahead.

The most important thing that we can do is to deliver first-class back-to-work support to help some of the people who have been stranded on benefits for long periods and often do not have a clear sense of what they need to do to get back into the workplace. That will be a key focus for us in trying to ensure that those people get back into work. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is examining the benefits system and how we remove some of the disincentives within it that sometimes make it financially disadvantageous for people to get back into work, which cannot be right.

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