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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 information related as directly as possible to South Thanet constituency, the effects on South Thanet of her Department's policies and actions since 2000. (315632)

DWP leads 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 2000, although the number of people unemployed in South Thanet has increased by 31 per cent. to 2,153, the number unemployed for more than one year has decreased by 21 per cent. to 280. From May 2000 to May 2009 the number of lone parents claiming income support in South Thanet has decreased by 24 per cent. to 1,070.

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 3,640 have been helped in South Thanet.

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 numbers of children living in poverty are not available at the constituency level. But the latest information for the south east Government office region shows that the proportion of children in poverty has risen from 14 per cent. to 15 per cent. since 2000.2

Support for older people

Figures from 2000 relating to support for older people could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. However, figures are available from 1997 and these are shown as follows.

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 6,340 pensioners in South Thanet 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 the proportion of pensioners living in relative poverty are not available at the constituency level. But the latest data for the south east Government office region show that the number of pensioners in poverty fell from 23 per cent. to16 per cent. since 20003.

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 aged between 60 to 79 and £400 for households aged 80 or over. These payments provide vital reassurance to older people 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 22,070 people aged 60 and over benefited from winter fuel payments in South Thanet.

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 733 people in the south east region are receiving compensation from the Pension Protection Fund (data not available at constituency level).4

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 South Thanet 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 trailblazed 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 figures are rounded to the nearest percentage point or 100,000 children between 2000-01 to 2002-03 and 2005-06 to 2007-08.

3 Based on three-year averages and changes are rounded to the nearest percentage point or 100,000 pensioners between 2000-01 to 2002-03 and 2005-06 to 2007-08.

4 Regional information about assistance payments received by members from the financial assistance scheme could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.