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Universal Credit Support

Volume 586: debated on Thursday 23 October 2014

The Minister for Employment (Esther McVey): During the passage of the Pensions Act 2014 through the House of Lords earlier this year, concerns were raised on the ability of universal credit claimants to undertake work-related requirements when they are facing situations where they have a child in considerable distress. We wanted to ensure that we appropriately support parents in these circumstances as we recognise the importance of parental responsibilities in such acute situations. My noble Friend the Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, therefore committed to an internal departmental review to consider this issue. That review has now ended and I am pleased to announce the findings.

Evidence was provided by a range of external stakeholder organisations, DWP front-line staff and officials from other Government Departments. We have also been supported in our considerations of the review findings by two external expert advisers, Dr Jane Callaghan from the British Psychological Society and Karina Dancza from the College of Occupational Therapists. I am very grateful to all those who contributed to the review, and especially to Jane and Karina for their expertise. The review concluded that there are particular circumstances where a child is likely to be in considerable distress and where it would be reasonable to allow the primary carer of the child to have their work related requirements suspended. This would be where there is significant disruption to the claimant’s normal child-care responsibilities and a need to provide additional care and support for their child. As a result, we intend to introduce an amendment to existing regulations that will allow the following improvements.

A month suspension of work-related requirements where there is a need to provide additional care and support to a child following the death of a parent, sibling, previous responsible carer of a child or a person living in the same household as the child who does not pay commercial rent;

the child experiencing or witnessing violence or abuse which would include domestic violence and abuse.

The responsible carer of the child would be able to access this month suspension once every six months for a total period of up to two years following the incidence of any of the above situations.

An extension of the existing suspension of work-related requirements from 13 weeks to 26 weeks for victims fleeing domestic violence and abuse where the claimant is the primary carer of a child.

We do not intend to seek evidence of the child’s distress, but rather on how the situation has impacted the day-to-day functioning of the parent/family. For example, the additional demands placed on the parent by having to attend numerous appointments with statutory agencies and how in turn this affects the claimant’s ability to undertake work search and their availability for work.

We have substantial evidence that points to work having a strong positive impact on the well-being of an individual and their family. The amendment to put in place a month suspended conditionality recognises the need to provide a temporary suspension of work related requirements to enable the parent to support their child and deal with the impact of their distress.

We intend to lay the amendments to regulations before Parliament on 4 November 2014.