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Universal Credit (Lone Parents)

Volume 570: debated on Monday 18 November 2013

Universal credit fundamentally simplifies support for working lone parents and our analysis shows that UC will create positive work incentives for lone parents.

But does the Minister not accept that research for Gingerbread shows that two in every five lone parents will lose out in cash terms under universal credit, with lone parents in work fighting an uphill battle to make work pay beyond 20 hours a week? Are not this Government not only botching the introduction of universal credit but breaching the Secretary of State’s pledge that UC would make sure that work paid for each and every hour that people work?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the Gingerbread report, which I have here. It says:

“Universal credit increases the financial pay off from working of single parents”.

Does the Minister agree that regardless of any particular problems that might be thrown up by the introduction of universal credit, one of the biggest problems with the welfare system is that it is far too complex, which leads to all sorts of mistakes being made, and that regardless of the teething problems we must press ahead with universal credit?

My hon. Friend is quite right. At the moment, people have to go to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs for their tax credits, to the local authority for their housing benefit, and to the Department for Work and Pensions for their jobseeker’s allowance. Having all this in a single system will improve take-up, and that is one of the things that the Gingerbread report did not factor in.

The Gingerbread report does, though, warn that working single parents are likely to lose a higher proportion of their income than other household types. Why does the Minister think that the children of lone parents should lose out?

As I say, the report makes some assumptions that it accepts are not true. One of its assumptions is that there is no impact on take-up; it assumes 100% take-up before and after. We know that that is not true—that take-up is partial—and rolling all three benefits into one will improve take-up for the benefit of the children of lone parents.

The introduction of new IT systems can be challenging for business as well as for Government Departments. What lessons have been learned from the mistakes of others as regards the introduction of the new universal credit and its new IT system?

As my hon. Friend knows, the litany of failed IT systems under the Labour Government would fill the remainder of this Question Time. One of the key things that is often forgotten is that every day this Department pays pensions and benefits seamlessly to millions of people. All the IT projects that are developed without delay and without hiccup never make it on to the front page of the newspapers.

Free school meals offer vital support to many lone parents in my constituency. When does the Minister plan to set out the eligibility criteria for free school meals under universal credit?

The broad intent is to mirror, as far as possible, the current rules. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for stressing the importance of free school meals. She will therefore welcome the coalition’s decision to extend access to free school meals to all infant school children.