(2) what steps he is taking to make Jobcentre Plus more accessible to people who do not speak English as a first language;
(3) what progress has been made in improving the accessibility of Jobcentre Plus to elderly people; and if he will make a statement.
The administration of Jobcentre Plus is a matter for the chief executive of Jobcentre Plus, Lesley Strathie. I have asked her to provide the hon. Member with the information requested.
Letter from Lesley Strathie, dated 3 December 2007:
The Secretary of State has asked me to reply to your questions about improving access to Jobcentre Plus services for people who are elderly or for whom English is not a first language and managing appropriately contact with people who have mental health or learning difficulties. These are things that fall within the responsibilities delegated to me as Chief Executive of Jobcentre Plus.
Our services are delivered over the telephone, face to face, in writing and through the internet. We recognise that some people have particular needs linked to age, disability and language and strive to meet these in the delivery of our services.
The steps we take are tailored to meet individual circumstances and include:
working with customer advocates and intermediary organisations such as Citizens Advice;
providing interpreter services to support interviews and telephone calls;
using alternative interview venues; and
producing a range of materials in other languages and alternative formats.
Additionally, we provide targeted help for customers with particular needs. For example, our Disability Employment Advisers are experts at helping people with health conditions and disabilities into work, including people with mental health conditions or learning disabilities.
Whilst some benefits end at State Pension Age, many of the services available through Jobcentre Plus to help people return to work have no upper age limit. This includes the use of Jobpoints to search for job and learning opportunities. Programmes like New Deal 50 plus, and Work Trials are among those available on a voluntary basis to people who have been in receipt of certain benefits for six months or more, including the Pension Credit which is a qualifying benefit for all currently available back to work programmes and services.
Our staff receive training to ensure they understand equality legislation. We also work closely with the voluntary sector, including organisations that represent customer interests. This helps us to understand better our customers' needs and to make appropriate referrals to external support in local communities.
I hope this is helpful.