Benefits (Payment Method)

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 6th March 2003.

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Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 6th March 2003

To ask the Scottish Executive what representations have been made to the Department for Work and Pensions about the impact of changes to the method of payment of benefits on urban and rural communities. (S1O-6590)

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

Pensions and benefits matters are reserved. The Scottish Executive is in regular contact with United Kingdom ministers and departments on a range of issues, which include how benefits are paid.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

Does the minister agree that the Executive has some responsibility for ensuring that our elderly citizens receive proper information and education about the changes, so that they can make informed decisions about managing their finances? What are the Executive's plans on that?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I agree that the Executive has responsibility for ensuring that all our citizens are informed about matters that are of great importance to them. As I have said many times in the chamber, we have a comprehensive programme for financial literacy, which we are trying to encourage through our funding of credit unions and many other initiatives. We also launched in December last year a fund of £2 million to develop post offices in deprived urban areas. That enables us to assist in the Labour Government's delivery of the modernisation programme and to ensure that people are adequately informed, so that they can maximise their opportunities.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Does the minister agree that one of the most significant impacts on urban and rural communities of the changes to the benefits payment method might be on post offices? Does she share my concern that much of the literature published by UK Government departments does not make it sufficiently clear that people can receive their benefits through the new Post Office card account?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I make it clear that the DWP has responded to concerns that were expressed in Scotland and is undertaking a range of initiatives that will deal with David Mundell's points. The department is to arrange a meeting with Age Concern Scotland in the near future to address immediate concerns and will undertake other initiatives to ensure that information is issued.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

I accept that the matter is reserved, but does the minister share my serious concern about the impact on post offices and therefore on the quality of life of the people of Scotland? Will she make the strongest representations on the issue to the UK Government—with which she has good contact—because it affects the viability of post offices in many rural and urban communities?

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

I understand Keith Raffan's comments, which he has made before. My colleague, Allan Wilson, has made strong representations about the matters raised. We understand the significance of post offices and the contribution that they make to urban and rural communities. That is why we have provided £2 million of funding and why the DWP has responded and will continue to respond to concerns. The DWP believes, and we accept, that it can deliver the modernisation project, which is significant. It will also address the social justice concerns that Keith Raffan flagged up, which Allan Wilson's representations dealt with.