Universal credit is already operating in 15 jobcentres across Wales, with a further nine scheduled for roll-out this month. The number of people receiving universal credit in Wales is now over 40,000, and 36% of them are in employment. Wales’s jobcentres are in the latter part of the roll-out schedule and will be fully in place by December this year.
My constituent suffers from Huntington’s and early onset dementia. As a result of a 10-week delay to receive universal credit, her rent arrears went up £1,000. A couple of weeks ago, she attempted suicide. Thankfully, I managed to help her on this, but there may be other cases in Wales just like it. Will the Secretary of State work with his colleagues and revise this damaging policy?
I obviously cannot comment on the individual case, but I am sorry that the hon. Lady’s constituent was in that position. We have tried to do everything we can to ensure that the roll-out has been as smooth and as slow as possible, and where we have had issues such as those that she raised, we have made changes. That is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made the announcement in the Budget about the changes—we want to deal with the housing issues that she raises.
The IPPR, Shelter Cymru, the National Assembly’s Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee, the Bevan Foundation and the Trussell Trust all argue that Wales should have the same powers that the Scottish Government have been using so effectively to mitigate this Government’s horrendous social security cuts. Why will the Conservative Government here and the Labour Government in Cardiff not make it happen?
In Scotland, the transfer from disability living allowance to personal independence payment has resulted in a total of more than £56 million being lost in annual payments. In my constituency, the total loss to people with disabilities is over £2 million a year, so what assessment has the Secretary of State made of a similar impact on disabled people in Wales?
The reason we have introduced PIP is to make sure that people who are living with disabilities are able to have as independent a life as possible. The problem with the old system of DLA is that people were given the payment and their needs were never reassessed. That is the reason why with PIP, we are making regular assessments, so that as those conditions may deteriorate, they will get more support. I also point out that more people are getting the higher rate of PIP than they did of DLA.
Will the Minister reflect on the fact that it is welcome that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has put measures in place to make sure that there is no delay in people getting universal credit, and that it is worth reminding people that universal credit means that it always pays to take a job, and that people are better off as they move up the income scale in work? Those are the important benefits of the policy that people need to be reminded of every day of the week.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. People who are on universal credit are spending 50% more time looking for a job than they did on jobseeker’s allowance. They are getting into work quicker and when they are staying in work, they are staying there longer. The figures are quite staggering: 86% of people on universal credit are looking to increase their hours, because they can do so, compared with just 38% on JSA.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ own figures show that 44% of universal credit claimants have seen their arrears rise by the time that they are nine months into their claim. Many of these claimants are vulnerable because they have issues with mental ill health, literacy and using computers, or they may have experienced domestic violence and recent bereavement. Whatever the reason, nearly half of them are suffering financially as a result of universal credit. Will the Minister and his team meet Opposition Members and advice agencies from Wales to discuss these issues and to see how we can improve this dreadful situation?
There are a number of reasons why people who come to universal credit have arrears—I presume that the hon. Gentleman is talking about housing costs arrears and rent arrears. Some of those people had arrears when they were on JSA. That said, we have listened very carefully. That is why in the Budget we made provision that from now on, people who are going on to universal credit will have two weeks’ extra payment to address that need.