HC Deb 10 December 1996 vol 287 cc113-4
11. Mr. Tyler

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he proposes to reduce the transport difficulties faced by benefit applicants in scattered rural communities. [6855]

Mr. Roger Evans

The Benefits Agency provides a full range of services from its extensive local office network, by post, by telephone and, for those who need it, by home visits.

Mr. Tyler

Will the Minister pay particular attention to the problem of those in rural areas who are trying to obtain the jobseeker's allowance? In such areas, insistence on attendance at a jobcentre often means a journey of many hours in the more scattered rural areas. Even if public transport is available, the cost may be £4 or £5 a time, taking a major proportion of the allowance that those people may receive. When will the Government stop discriminating against rural areas?

Mr. Evans

It is quite the reverse. Until the introduction of jobseeker's allowance, 70 per cent. of the unemployed were on income support and were dealt with by Benefits Agency offices. The Employment Service's jobcentre network is more widespread; there are five jobcentres in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and the jobseeker's allowance is administered through them.

Mr. Garnier

Is the answer to reduce not the transport difficulties but the number of unemployed in rural areas, and are we not doing precisely that, by reducing rates and improving the economy so that more people can get back to work in both urban and rural areas?

Mr. Evans

My hon. and learned Friend is right on all points.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister agree that all recipients of benefit should get equal value from that benefit? Despite the help given by managers and staff in Department of Social Security offices in alleviating poor transport to offices for claimants, will he consider providing travel warrants for those who have to attend?

Mr. Evans

The position is that, if people are required to attend a Benefits Agency office for a specific interview, in Great Britain, the costs are met less 80p. The fortnightly signing on at an Employment Service jobcentre is not covered, but the service pays the full cost of transport if a special interview is required.