Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 31st March 2008.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 31st March 2008

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

As a result of our announced extension of the financial assistance scheme, some people will receive FAS payments for a past period. Concern has been expressed that those people might be in a higher tax band. I am pleased to say that, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Pensions Reform confirmed earlier, that will not happen. My officials are currently working with their colleagues in HM Revenue and Customs to establish how the work will be carried out.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Secretary of State for his explanation. Can he tell us whether his target for eliminating child poverty is actually a target, or more of an aspiration?

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The Conservatives should stop digging themselves into a hole. It is a target, and, as we have reaffirmed, we are committed to it. In the Budget we announced just under £1 billion of spending to take another 250,000 children out of poverty. The outrage is that the Conservative party voted against those measures.

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Photo of Jim Dobbin Jim Dobbin Labour, Heywood and Middleton

It is estimated that 1.5 million people's lives have been destroyed by involuntary tranquilliser addiction leading to long periods of mental ill health. A man whom I met recently had been on tranquillisers for 45 years. Those people want to work, but cannot do so. As far as I am aware, the only primary care trust that has introduced a withdrawal programme is Oldham. Will the Secretary of State encourage his Department and the Department of Health to study the Oldham model with the aim of getting some of those people off prescription drugs and back to work? That would improve their quality of life, and would reduce the benefits bill as well.

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend has identified a serious problem, on which I know he has campaigned for some time. He will be glad to know that Dame Carol Black's review commits my Department and the Department of Health to working together closely on the issue, and that Dame Carol will use that work to ensure that we can help people with mental health problems. We are also working on our drug strategy to ensure that we can provide better support for people who wish to return to work.

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

As the hon. Gentleman knows and as has been explained on many occasions, we advertise any jobs that are legal. I am sure that he would do exactly the same.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I have a selection here of adverts currently appearing on Jobcentre Plus websites. Many of them advertise jobs for the national minimum wage and they are quite clear—this one, in particular, says:

"Duties require the successful applicant to be nude/semi nude".

I regard asking women to work, naked or semi-naked, on the national minimum wage as exploitation. Why does not the Secretary of State share that view and why does he continue to condone Jobcentre Plus supporting vacancies like that?

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

In that case, if the hon. Gentleman believes that and he wants to have the means to live up to those ends, he will introduce proposals to ban those adverts. At the moment, it is legal and Jobcentre Plus obviously has a duty to comply with anything that is legal. The hon. Gentleman, however, has no proposals to do anything any differently.

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Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

I know that on quite a few occasions some parts of the Government have difficulty talking to other parts, but will the Minister explain why staff working on the MPs' hotline for the Child Support Agency cannot speak by telephone to the Bolton office, but have to put any matters in writing, which is leading to many delays? I have raised the matter previously in a written question, so may I urge the Minister, when he looks further into the issue, not simply to accept what his civil servants tell him? Clearly, even a year later, the problem is still going on.

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Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that problem. As he knows, there were a series of problems with the Bolton office for a while, but in many cases, we have seen improvements. I have myself spoken to officials who are working on the MPs' hotline. I will take my hon. Friend's point seriously and I promise to look into it further for him in the light of what he has said.

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Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen Conservative, Totnes

If the Home Office has its way, migrant domestic workers will have a non-renewable six-month visa and will be unable to change employers. Is that not a recipe for increasing domestic abuse and trafficking? If the women come forward, they will be sent back home; and they cannot get another job because they will have only a non-transferable six-month visa. For a Government who are supposedly committed to stamping out trafficking, is that not an extraordinary proposal from the Home Office? Will the Minister do something about it?

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A

If immigrant workers are to work with children or the elderly or any other vulnerable group,(which is not a bad thing in itself) are they assessed for their competence and training?

Submitted by Alix Cull

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Employment and Welfare Reform)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's work as chair of the all-party group on the trafficking of women and children. As he knows, we are committed to implementing the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking before the end of this year. My Department is working very closely with the Home Office and others on exactly how those arrangements will work. The convention envisages a two-step process and we are looking at granting a resident's permit in the second stage. We will discuss the details with the Home Office, so I would be interested to receive any representations from the hon. Gentleman about the detailed form that any such regulations should take.

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Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

Given that £133 million has been spent on developing systems within the CSA, can those of my constituents who are currently on the old formula expect to be transferred to the new formula at a relatively early date?

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Photo of James Plaskitt James Plaskitt Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions

As my hon. Friend knows, because of the IT problems that have tended to plague the agency ever since its inception, transfer from one funding regime to another has not been possible to achieve. As we move towards the introduction of the new commission to replace the existing agency, we have set out that movement towards an integrated maintenance calculation will begin in 2010.

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c

Mr Plaskitt What do familys like mine live on while you overcome your IT problems we can't wait till 2010 you are playing with peoples lives. Your supposed to be putting an end to child poverty you are a joke you are causing child...

Submitted by christine mumford Continue reading

Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

The Secretary of State knows that the Conservative party is committed to the eradication of child poverty by 2020, yet he claims that it is not. The Secretary of State knows that the Government will not meet their child poverty target in 2010, yet he maintained in the House today that it will be met. I put it to him that, as an internal document from the Department for Work and Pensions, published in February this year, says:

"Despite effective policies these targets are unlikely to be fully met".

Will the Secretary of State come clean today and tell the House the truth—that the targets will not be met on current policies?

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

If the hon. Gentleman read his documents more carefully, he would know that that was before the Budget, which announced an extra £1 billion, which Conservative Members voted against. If he also read his own party's documents, he would know that the Conservatives are not committed to ending child poverty; they talk vaguely about an aspiration, but have no policy to deliver it. They have tried to say that they will find more money from the working tax credit, but that was going to come from £3 billion of welfare savings, which are no longer there. The Conservatives now need to come clean and admit that they have no policy on child policy and that they would make no difference to it.

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Photo of Christine Russell Christine Russell PPS (Rt Hon Beverley Hughes, Minister of State), Department for Children, Schools and Families

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware that family support workers who work out of children's centres, alongside community midwives, health visitors, nursery staff and so on, do an excellent job in reaching out to those families who have often been beyond the reach of traditional services. They also do an excellent job in helping lone parents to get back into training and work. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that his Department will support the retention of family support workers in children's centres, unlike the Conservative party, which wants to get rid of them?

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T

Well said M/s Russell MP


Tony Moore

Submitted by Tony Moore Read 1 more annotation

Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance, and I can go further: she will be glad to know that we will ensure that we pilot the use of Jobcentre Plus advisers working in children's centres, so that when parents take their children to get support there, they also discover how they can find opportunities to work. So we are making sure that we have both health and children's services working hand in glove with the services from the Department for Work and Pensions and from Jobcentre Plus.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome

The Minister was talking earlier about getting people on the blind and partially sighted register back to work. Does he accept that it is actually far better and more cost-effective to keep people, particularly those with degenerative eye diseases, in work while they are still capable of working, rather than their losing their jobs? That needs support and the provision of adaptations. Is that a priority for the Department?

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Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I have discussed the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises with the organisations that represent blind and visually impaired people. He is quite right to suggest that one of the issues that we need to consider is how we maintain people in employment when their vision is deteriorating, as it does for many working people. He can be assured that we are working to ensure that people are maintained in employment for as long as possible, because one of the major issues that we face is that, if people drop out of employment, it is far more difficult for them to move back into it.

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Photo of Ronnie Campbell Ronnie Campbell Labour, Blyth Valley

When the Minister tries to get people back to work, which he is undoubtedly trying to do, will he take it a little bit easy on the older members of our society, such as miners and shipyard workers who are about the age of 60 who have most probably worked all their life in hard industry and are crippled with arthritis? One of my constituents is being chased to go back to work, and he is 61. I think that it is a bit much.

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Of course we want to provide more support for those who are in greatest need. My hon. Friend may have seen that we announced last week that we will provide extra support for people who are the poorest and most disabled. People who are in the support group of the employment and support allowance will be an extra £16 a week better off. That shows that our reforms are about two things: helping people who can work back into work and providing more support for those who need more help.

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Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

Can the Secretary of State say why the number of people in severe poverty—5.2 million—is the highest that it has been in 27 years?

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman keeps banging on about those figures, but he knows perfectly well that the Office for National Statistics has said that they are not reliable because the sample is too small. It is interesting to hear him talking in today's questions, because I believe that, last week, he told The Guardianhis favourite paper—

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Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

Further to the earlier question from my hon. Friend Jim Sheridan about employers encouraging older people in the workplace, one in four of UK adults are, like me, over the age of 60; will the Minister say whether he believes that each tier of our right hon. Friend's Government is adequately represented in that regard? Will he urge the Prime Minister to ensure that the special contribution of the over-60s is better reflected in future reshuffles?

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

Good question. I am sure that I can pass on my hon. Friend's observations to the Prime Minister.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Shadow Minister (Transport)

Will the Minister comment on grants of up to £3,000 to purchase vehicles being made available to foreign nationals working in the UK?

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I am very happy to make inquiries into that matter. Obviously, we have a Motability scheme to support disabled people to drive. I do not think the matter the hon. Gentleman raises is one for my Department, but if he writes to me, I will be happy to look into it.

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A

Not quite an answer to the question.

Submitted by Alex Robinson

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Chancellor), Ministry of Justice

Will the Minister for Pensions Reform tell us how much better off pensioners are under this Government?

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Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

There is a bit of a difficulty for the following reason. We have been quoting figures that the average pensioner household will be £1,500, or £29 a week, better off, but last week the Conservative party published its own document, which is well worth looking at—

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Further to the question by my hon. Friend Greg Clark, the living in poverty figure is 5.2 million—that is an Office for National Statistics figure. Will the Secretary of State now answer my hon. Friend's question, because he has passed the buck a number of times today?

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

Child poverty is down by 600,000, and pensioner poverty is down by more than 1 million. That is in contrast to the record of the Conservative Government, under whom both went up.

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Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

Last week, the Secretary of State made an announcement about the employment and support allowance. Will he tell the House how important that allowance will be, in giving both support to those who cannot work and help to those who can work?

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Photo of James Purnell James Purnell Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions

That is exactly right. It will mean £16 more for the most disabled people. They will not be required to work, but as a consequence of the benefit changes we are introducing they will have much more support to get back into work, and much more income as well.

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