Skip to main content

Universal Credit: Vulnerable Claimants

Volume 644: debated on Monday 2 July 2018

1. What recent steps the Government has taken to protect the welfare of vulnerable universal credit claimants. (906155)

Universal credit is a person-centred benefit focused on the needs of the individual. We are working continuously with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that we provide the right support for vulnerable claimants, and our work coaches undertake awareness training to identify claimants with complex needs.

During a recent visit with the Secretary of State to the Barrhead jobcentre in my constituency, one of the things we discussed with staff was the payment of advances as a single payment potentially to claimants who have difficulty managing budgets or who are struggling with addiction. Will she take into account those concerns when reviewing how the advance system is operating?

I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and local jobcentre and to visit the Greenhouse Café, which he champions and which helps vulnerable people to get closer to the workplace. On the question that he and the work coaches raised about the advance, those advances could be given up to 100%, and with the personal relationship that the work coaches have, through this training they can assess what the right needs are. That is the right thing to do.

One of the concerns raised by the National Audit Office is that the Department does not really know who the vulnerable claimants are, and particular problems are being caused by the very long delay before people are entitled to their benefit. The right hon. Lady’s predecessor took an important step by reducing the minimum wait from six weeks to five. Will she commit to taking that further and reducing the period further still?

Universal credit is all about the relationship with the work coach. They get to know their claimants and their claimants’ needs, so it is very much a tailor-made benefit. We as Ministers have always said that, should we need to adapt and change universal credit so that it best supports the individual, we will do just that. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the changes that we have already made.

Vulnerable claimants often consult their local citizens advice bureau. On a visit to the Chesham citizens advice bureau, staff told me that the fixed-term, timed appointments for their clients are often taken up by them hanging on to the DWP telephone line for up to 25 or 30 minutes, and then the time for the appointment has expired. Will the Secretary of State look at the telephone line and try to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, so that CAB advisers can instantly access the advice that they need to help these clients to make universal credit go smoothly?

My right hon. Friend, who does so much for people in her constituency, and particularly those with autism, raises a very good point. We will look into exactly what we can do to do that for the citizens advice bureaux, as we have a very good working relationship with them.

The National Audit Office’s report on universal credit shows that people such as carers, families needing support with childcare and disabled people are more likely to have to wait for an initial payment. The report shows that, in December 2017, only a third of disabled people were receiving their initial payments in full and on time. As the Secretary of State claims that the NAO report is out of date, can she tell us what the figure is now?

As we said quite clearly, the NAO did not take into consideration all the changes that we had made and their impact. What we can say is that we know that 80% of people will get their payment on time and in full, but what the NAO report has not taken into consideration is that 90% will get some payment within the first month and it is invariably down to non-verification and not fulfilling their claimant commitment.

On Thursday, our concerns became a reality, as we discovered from the Government’s figures that 190 women were put in the impossible position of declaring that their child was born as a result of rape in order to receive universal credit or child tax credits. We can also estimate from those figures that around 200,000 children have been affected by the two-child cap. How does she feel about cutting that money and stopping it being spent on up to 250,000 children?

This whole House voted for the changes to tax credits so that we can make sure that people in work are treated the same way as people on benefits. However, what we did do was bring in a set of exemptions for people who would not be able to have those two children. It is only right that we have brought in specific exemptions to help those people who need them.

The Government continue to mislead. We know from the figures that 59% of all those households impacted are already in work. The Secretary of State continues to suggest today that this was about making the choices the same for those who are in and out of work, but actually it is about the Government making people’s choices for them. What advice does she have for a woman who is in work and in receipt of tax credits or universal credit and who has fallen unexpectedly pregnant with what would be a third child?

The hon. Gentleman will know that we still pay child benefit for all children. We are also paying childcare costs. In fact, those have increased. As I said, what we have done with tax credits is make sure that people who are paying their way and are not dependent on the state get the same support as those people who are also getting support from the state.