2. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the roll-out of universal credit in Wales. (144372)
The Wales Office has regular discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions on the roll-out of universal credit in Wales to ensure its successful implementation.
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), recently told me that there would be “no big-bang effect” on the finances of housing associations and landlords across Wales as a result of the Government’s policy. Yet Moody’s has placed housing associations on downgrade review, not just this Government, and the NHS is warning of a massive increase in rent arrears. When will he and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions get a grip before there are devastating impacts across Wales?
I simply do not accept much of the scaremongering from the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. We are in close discussion and consultation with housing associations and local authorities across Wales that are key stakeholders. We expect 200,000 households in Wales to see an increase in their average entitlement of around £160 per month as a result of universal credit.
Seventy per cent. of council tenants in Crumlin in my constituency will lose out because of the bedroom tax and the roll-out of universal credit. With council services stretched to the maximum, is the Secretary of State concerned that vital services will be cut locally across Wales, as well as homelessness increasing?
I will make the same point to the hon. Gentleman: the Government simply do not accept the catastrophic scenarios that Labour Members are trying to communicate. Universal credit will be a major tool in creating new incentives to work and raise employment levels in Wales. Let us not forget that Labour’s legacy in Wales was 200,000 people who have never worked at all. He should feel angry about that.
Disarray on universal credit means that children in Wales still do not know whether they will lose their free school meal entitlement, and some families in Wales will be better off not seeking more work because they would have to earn an additional £1,500 per child to make up for the loss of school meals. What is the Minister doing to safeguard free school meal entitlements for children in Wales?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. The Government take seriously concerns about high child care costs. On her specific point on passported benefits, of which the free school meal is one, we are in close discussions with Welsh Government Ministers. We are making good progress on resolving the outstanding questions. I will write to her with further information.