§ Mr. Carmichael
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what percentage of those employed in benefit offices are over 55. 
§ Mr. McCartney
[holding answer 15 April 2002]: From April 2002, benefits are paid through Jobcentre Plus and the Pensions Service. The percentage of staff aged over 55 in these agencies is 7.32 per cent. and 7.48 per cent. respectively.
Since the Department's creation last year, staff in DWP, (other than senior civil service) have had the opportunity to continue their employment beyond the age of 60 up to 65.
The Department's Diversity and Equality policy statement makes an explicit commitment to nondiscrimination on age grounds. DWP is keen to make the most of the talents and experience of older staff and offers a range of working arrangements such as flexible working hours, part-time working patterns and other options which may suit their needs.
We have been looking at ways of further encouraging the recruitment of older workers. At the end of last year the Employment Service worked with colleagues in the Benefits Agency to develop a customised "gateway" to prepare New Deal 50plus customers for jobs in DWP. The initiative proved successful with 20 of the 21 participants subsequently taking up jobs in DWP with the Benefits 98W Agency. The success of the initiative has been widely communicated internally throughout the Department, and promoted to other civil service Departments. Under the new Deal 50plus programme we are able to specifically target people from that age group and give them fixed term contracts with us, and permanent posts subject to them passing a fair and open recruitment competition.
In July 2002 DWP will be extending its use of the New Deal 50plus programme to support its staff recruitment. Guidance will be issued across DWP to raise the profile of the programme and to encourage managers to use this alternative form of recruitment.