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Benefit Claimants

Volume 449: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what steps his Department has taken to tackle the perceived stigma of claiming benefits by people in rural areas; and if he will make a statement. (84955)

The Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) is currently undertaking its annual monitoring of the rural proofing of Government policy. The CRC has appointed a team of consultants who will be interviewing officials from each Government Department on selected subjects. One subject selected for the DWP is the payment of benefits. The interviews are expected to take place this month.

The Department also produces an internal annual Rural Proofing Report for the Countryside Agency; this includes examples of how the Department has addressed service delivery issues in rural areas. A copy of the Countryside Agency’s Rural Proofing Report for 2004-05 is available in the Library.

A fundamental element of our plans for the future is the need to transform the way customers access and use the services of Jobcentre Plus so we can release resources to focus on customers who need more help. Customers are no longer required to attend our offices to make claims for benefits, undertake jobsearch activities or to enquire about their benefit payments. As we transform our services, other more efficient channels are now available to our customers, such as Jobseeker Direct, Interactive TV, or the Jobcentre Plus website, and these new options will greatly assist our customers living in rural areas.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the likely impact in each region of introducing a lower rate of benefit for young people under the age of 25 claiming the proposed employment and support allowance. (78108)

The proposal in the Green Paper was to align the basic rate of the employment and support allowance with jobseeker’s allowance basic rates. In the main phase, a work-related activity component or support component would be added on top.

During the consultation period, stakeholders raised concerns that this would penalise disabled young people. Therefore, in our consultation report we announced that we will not proceed with plans for a young person’s rate during the main phase. Claimants will get the same benefit rate, regardless of age, once on the main phase of the benefit. We believe that this provides the best balance between aligning rates until the medical assessment is completed, and making sure we provide an appropriate level of support for all people with health conditions or disabilities.

The Green Paper consultation report (CM6859) is available in the Library.