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Volume 506: debated on Monday 22 February 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will set out, with statistical evidence relating as closely as possible to the borough of Sandwell, the effects on that borough of changes to the policies of her Department and its predecessors since 1997. (316476)

DWP lead the Government’s response to some of the biggest issues facing the country—welfare and pension reform—and are a key player in tackling child poverty1. As the biggest delivery Department in the UK, DWP makes a difference to millions of people every day, helping them to lead safer, fairer and more rewarding lives that are free from poverty. We want to give people more choice and control over their lives and are committed to providing greater choice and personalised support to everyone who needs it so they have the opportunity to get into and remain in work. We believe that work works. Even in economically challenging times we know that work works for the most vulnerable and the disadvantaged.

Support to find work

Through Jobcentre Plus, we are promoting work as the best form of welfare for people of working age. Since 1997, although the number of people unemployed in West Bromwich East has increased by 37 per cent. to 3,660, the number unemployed for more than one year has decreased by 24 per cent. to 665. From May 1997 to May 2009 the number of lone parents claiming income support in West Bromwich, East has decreased by 2 per cent. to 1,370.

Our new deals have helped lone parents, the young unemployed, the long-term unemployed, disabled people, the over-50s and partners of unemployed people to move from benefit into work. Since their inception over 2.2 million people in Great Britain have found work with the support of the new deal, and 16,370 have been helped in the Sandwell local authority area.

Support for children

We introduced a target to halve child poverty by 2010-11 on the way to eradicating it by 2020. Poverty is measured using a headline indicator of the proportion of children in households with an income below 60 per cent. of contemporary household median income before housing costs. This is in line with international best practice.

Statistics on the number of children living in poverty are not available at the constituency level, but the latest information for the West Midlands area shows that the proportion of children in poverty fell from 28 per cent. to 27 per cent. since 1997.

Support for older people

Since 1997, our strategy has been to target help on the poorest pensioners while providing a solid foundation of support for all.

This year we will be spending over £13 billion more on pensioners than if we had continued with the policies that were in place in 1997. Around half of that money will go to the poorest third of pensioners.

In 1997, the poorest pensioners who received income support, lived on £69 a week (£98 in today’s prices). Today pension credit, which was introduced in 2003, means no pensioner needs to live on less than £130 a week, £198.45 for couples. As of May 2009, 26,720 pensioners in the borough of Sandwell are benefiting from pension credit.

In 2007-08 there were 900,000 fewer pensioners living in relative poverty in UK compared to 1998-99 (measured as below 60 per cent. of contemporary median household income after housing costs).

Statistics on proportion of pensioners living in relative poverty are not available at the constituency level. But the latest data for the West Midlands Government Office Region show that the number of pensioners in poverty has fallen from 28 per cent. in 1997 to 18 per cent2.

Pensioners in the UK also benefit from a range of additional support such as the winter fuel payment which this winter is worth £250 for households with someone aged between 60-79 and £400 for households with someone aged 80 or over. These payments provide vital reassurance to older people so that they can afford to turn up their heating during cold weather. Prior to winter 1997-98, less than £60 million was spent helping pensioners meet their fuel bills—this year we will be spending around £2.7 billion on winter fuel payments alone. In 2008-09, 55,210 people aged 60 and over benefited from winter fuel payments in the borough of Sandwell.

We have also taken steps to strengthen and protect the private pensions system to ensure people can continue to have confidence to save for their future through the establishment of the Pensions Protection Fund, the Financial Assistance Scheme and a more powerful and proactive pensions regulator.

The protection system ensures that, unlike in 1997, people are not left without a pension even in the event that their employer becomes insolvent.

In total 4,709 people in the West Midlands region are receiving compensation from the Pension Protection Fund (data not available at constituency level)3.

We have also taken forward a radical package of pension reforms in the Pensions Acts of 2007 and 2008 which will deliver a fairer and more generous state pension and extend the opportunity of workplace pension saving to millions, many for the first time.

The state pension reforms begin to come into effect from 2010 and will mean around three quarters of women reaching state pension age in 2010 are expected to qualify for a full basic state pension compared to half without reform.

Support for disabled people and carers

Since 2001, we have significantly extended and improved civil rights for disabled people in areas such as employment, education, access to goods and services and transport. Disabled people in Sandwell will have benefited from these improvements. The Welfare Reform Act 2009 contains powers to increase choice and control for disabled adults, including disabled parents who are entitled to state support, enabling them to choose how certain state support is used to meet their individual needs. This will be trail-blazed in up to eight local authority areas from late 2010.

Older and less well-off carers have gained extra help through the provisions within the National Carers Strategy.

1 The Department for Work and Pensions was created in 2001 and so information relates to the Department and its predecessors.

2 Based on three-year averages and changes are rounded to the nearest percentage point or 100,000 pensioners between 1997-98 to 1999-2000 and 2005-06 to 2007-08.

3 Regional information about assistance payments received by members from the Financial Assistance Scheme could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.