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50-plus Workers

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department is taking to increase the number of people in work aged 50 years and over in Yeovil constituency. (82190)

Like all other customers, people aged 50 and over can benefit from the range of services provided by Jobcentre Plus, including access to jobs and help and support to find work.

Additional help is provided to older people who do not find work quickly. New deal 50 plus is a voluntary programme that provides people with advice and guidance from personal advisers, and access to in-work financial help through the 50 plus element of the working tax credit. Since April 2000, the programme has been successful in helping more than 150,000 older workers into employment, including 200 people in Yeovil. Once in work, new deal 50 plus customers can claim a training grant of up to £1,500 for training of which up to £300 can be used for life-long learning.

People aged 50 and over, including those in Yeovil, are also eligible for help from new deal 25 plus. People who have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for 18 months and who have not previously participated on new deal 25 plus, are already required to attend the gateway stage of the new deal 25 plus programme. This is a period of up to four months of intensive job search and specialist help and support to improve job prospects. This is followed by the intensive activity period (IAP) which is currently voluntary for people aged 50 and over. The IAP provides further support and pre-work training to help people return to work.

Since April 2004, we have been piloting mandatory participation in the New deal 25 plus IAP for people aged 50-59 who have been claiming JSA for 18 months. Yeovil was included in the pilot which offered people in this age group more extensive help back to work. Interim results are positive and, as announced in our Welfare Reform Green Paper, we intend to commence a phased national rollout.

Between 1979 and the mid 1990s, the number of people on incapacity benefits trebled. Since then, growth in the caseload has since slowed significantly and, in November 2005, there were 2.71 million people claiming incapacity benefits, a fall of 61,000 over the year. 46 per cent. of those claiming incapacity benefits are aged between 50 and state pension age although, between 2000 and 2005, the number of people in this age group fell by 52,000. This has contributed to the overall reduction in the incapacity benefits case load.

We still clearly have more work to do and, like other age groups, people aged 50 and over will be able to benefit from the rollout of the successful Pathways to Work service across the whole country which will be completed by 2008. Pathways offers new incapacity benefit (IB) customers early support from skilled personal advisers and direct access to a ‘Choices Package’ of employment programmes and clear financial incentives to make work pay. Any IB customer will be able to access the support and help available on a voluntary basis. Pathways has already begun helping people in the Yeovil area, having rolled out there in April 2004.

Through our Age Positive Campaign we are working with employers and others to promote the business benefits of an age diverse workforce and best practice on age in recruitment, training and promotion. In May 2005 we launched the ‘Be Ready’ national information campaign to raise employer awareness of, and ability to adopt, flexible employment and retirement opportunities to support the recruitment and retention of older workers in advance of age legislation due in October 2006.