HC Deb 17 June 2002 vol 387 cc84-5W
Mr. Goodman

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will list the activities pursued by his Department that have had a particular impact on the Wycombe constituency since 7 June 2001. [58621]

Mr. Nicholas Brown

The Department for Work and Pensions was formed in June 2001 from the former Department of Social Security and parts of the Department for Education and Employment. We are currently undertaking a fundamental overhaul of the welfare system, transforming it from a passive organisation paying out benefits to an active system that fights poverty, creates opportunity and helps people become self-sufficient and independent. This is making a significant contribution to the Government's overall objectives of eradicating child poverty in 20 years, and halving it within 10; promoting work as the best form of welfare for people of working age while protecting the position of those in greatest need and combating poverty and promoting security and independence in retirement for today's and future pensioners.

Child benefit is now worth £15.74 a week for the eldest child and £10.55 a week for other children; nationally about 7 million families receive child benefit, and in Wycombe 12,220 families benefit.

The number of people in work is at record levels of 28.4 million. Nearly three quarters of working age people are in employment and in Wycombe the proportion in employment currently stands at 80.5 per cent. Unemployment is around its lowest level since the mid 1970s. Our New Deals have helped lone parents, the young unemployed, the long-term unemployed, disabled people, the over 50s and partners of the unemployed to move from benefit into work. Nationally well over 600,000 people have been helped into work by the New Deals and in Wycombe over 550 have been helped into work.

Through Jobcentre Plus we are delivering a single, integrated service to people of working age claiming benefits, with a clear focus on work. In addition to the 56 integrated Jobcentre Plus offices which are already open, we intend to introduce around 225 more integrated offices by April next year including offices in the Wycombe constituency.

Older people are disproportionately affected by fuel poverty. This winter (2001–02) we have made available a winter fuel payment of £200 for each eligible household to help with their heaviest fuel bill. We estimate that around 17,000 older people in Wycombe have received a payment this winter.

We want all pensioners to have a decent and secure income in retirement and to share fairly in the rising prosperity of the country. Our first priority has been to help the poorest pensioners.

From April 2002 we will be spending an extra £6 billion a year in real terms on pensioners as a result of our policies. This includes £2.5 billion more on the poorest third of pensioners.

2,000 pensioner families in Wycombe are receiving the minimum income guarantee which helps our poorest pensioners. Some 14,700 pensioners in Wycombe will benefit from this year's increases in the basic state pension of £3 a week for single pensioners and £4.80 for couples. Those over 75, of whom we estimate there are about 6,000 in Wycombe, may qualify for free TV licences.

Other reforms include the new pension credit in 2003 designed to ensure that pensioners benefit from their savings and the introduction of the state second pension from this April. Both of these initiatives will help provide greater security for tomorrow's pensioners. We have also announced that from October 2003 benefits currently reduced after a hospital stay of six weeks will not be reduced until 13 weeks. This will benefit both pensioners and people of working age.

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