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Universal Credit Roll-out

Volume 647: debated on Monday 15 October 2018

2. What assessment she has made of her Department’s preparedness for the roll-out of universal credit to people in receipt of working tax credits. (907037)

We are working closely with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and stakeholders to ensure that our testing covers the full range of tax credit claimants. With parliamentary approval, our managed migration regulations will allow for transitional protection. This will make sure that nobody loses out financially when they are moved to universal credit.

Yes, but for how long? One of the fundamental principles of universal credit was to design a welfare system where people would always choose to be in work. The money that the Chancellor took out in 2015 fundamentally undermined that principle, so will the Secretary of State speak to the current Chancellor about restoring work allowances to the levels originally planned?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I have of course been having discussions with the Chancellor, and we will all know the result of those discussions two weeks to this very day.

Will my right hon. Friend take the time to listen to the voices of those on the frontline—the work coaches in the jobcentres, who have experience of how this policy functions in practice, who know what works and what does not work, and whose views about universal credit are overwhelmingly more positive than those of the Opposition critics?

My right hon. Friend is correct to point out these facts. When we visit jobcentres, work coaches say that this is the best system that they have ever had to help people into work. We know the validity in that statement because 1,000 more people have been getting into work each and every day since 2010. We have to ensure that the system works for claimants and taxpayers.

May I raise the question about which I wrote to the Secretary of State, regarding how universal credit is being rolled out in Birkenhead? It is not going as well there as we are told it is in the House of Commons, and some women have taken to the red light district for the first time. Will the Secretary of State come to Birkenhead to meet women’s organisations and the police, who are worried about the security of women being pushed into this position?

The right hon. Gentleman knows that my door is always open to him. I did receive a letter on Friday, but really we need to work with those ladies and see what help we can give them—from work coaches right the way through to various charities and organisations. In the meantime, perhaps he and the work coaches could tell these ladies that there are currently a record 830,000 job vacancies, and that perhaps there are other jobs on offer.

Just to draw on a point that we have already heard in the Chamber this afternoon, is the Secretary of State aware how much support she has on the Conservative Benches for our desire to see extra funding in the Budget to restore the work allowances to where they should be?

I thank my hon. Friend. I know that all Members of the House want to ensure that universal credit works for all claimants. It is helping people into work and is built on sound principles, unlike the legacy system, which trapped people and locked them into unemployment. Now we are helping people into work, but we have to listen, learn and adjust where we can, as we have done in the past, with a £1.5 billion package this year. We are still adjusting, learning and helping the most vulnerable.

19. The Secretary of State recently admitted that groups such as lone parents will be £2,400 a year worse off under universal credit. How is the Department going to support such lone parents when their transitional protection ends, as it very soon will? (907054)

When we came into office in 2010—and then in 2015 and 2017—it was really important for the country to take difficult decisions about what we needed to do to ensure that the benefit was sustainable and affordable, because it had grown by over 60% under Labour. We still have to ensure that the benefit is sustainable and affordable, and that we support the most vulnerable, and that is what this Conservative Government are doing.

When we move people over, it is vital that we get them on to the right amount of benefit at the right time, so will the Secretary of State agree to put in place some targets for accurate performance, and to delay the roll-out if those targets are not achieved?

Under the process of managed migration, the roll-out will be slow and measured. It will start not in January 2019, but later in the year. For a further year we will be learning as we go with a small amount of people—maybe 10,000—to ensure that the system is right. The roll-out will then increase from 2020 onwards. It will be slow and measured, and we will adapt and change as we go.

Has the Secretary of State requested any additional funds for universal credit from the Chancellor ahead of the Budget?

I do not let people know what we do in private meetings, old-fashioned as that may be, but what the hon. Gentleman can know is that I am championing UC to make sure that it works the best it can possibly work. He can take from that what he will.

That was barely a response, let alone an answer. Given the week that universal credit has had, where the Secretary of State has suggested that it will cost claimants up to £2,400 a year; two former Prime Ministers have called for her to rethink; dozens of Back-Bench MPs led by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), have called for a rethink; and expert groups like the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Resolution Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group have all called for a rethink, does she not see that universal credit in its current form is causing misery? The roll-out must stop and the cuts must be reversed at the Budget.

We all agree on the founding, sound principles of this benefit, which is helping more people into work. It will give extra money to the most vulnerable. One million more disabled people will get, on average, £110 more a week. We will also be helping the 700,000 people who were getting the incorrect amount of benefit, plus we will be bringing in transitional protection to help them. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to reverse this, what would he do for those most vulnerable people?

Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of the jobcentre in Haywards Heath, which I visited last Friday, for the extraordinarily effective, humane and decent way in which it is rolling out universal credit?

I thank my right hon. Friend for that. Of course I want to thank not just Haywards Heath jobcentre but all the jobcentres across the country, who are saying that this is now enabling them, for the very first time, to help people into work. We know that that is the case, as we have record numbers of people getting into work— 3.4 million more than in 2010.

At the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister announced that austerity is over. Only a few days later, it was reported in The Times that families who are required to transfer to universal credit could lose up to £2,400 a year. The Prime Minister then denied it, but the following day the Secretary of State admitted that in fact some people would lose out. The confusion of the past week will have caused real concerns for families who will be affected. They have a right to know. If austerity is really over, will the Government ensure that nobody loses out?

As I have said both on TV and in the House, we took difficult decisions, as did the country, in 2015-16 because we had a benefits system that had grown by over 60% under Labour. Now it is on a sustainable footing and is fair to the taxpayer and fair to the claimant. One million more disabled people will be getting, on average, £110 more a month, and 700,000 who were not getting their full amount of benefit now will. There will be transitional protection. We are listening, we are learning, and we will adapt and change as need be.

Almost 30% of universal credit claims started are not completed, according to the latest figures, and the Government do not appear to have any idea about or interest in what happens to those people. In the next phase of the roll-out, the Government are placing all the responsibility for making a universal credit claim on to the 2.87 million people required to move across, and they admit that they do not know how many will need additional support. There is a real danger that hundreds of thousands of people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be pushed into poverty—even left at risk of destitution. So will the Government step back from the brink and stop the roll-out of universal credit?

I have to say that that is some of the worst scaremongering I have ever heard. At the last Budget and this year, we put in another £1.5 billion when we knew that we had to provide more support. I announced in June that we would be helping another half a million disabled people on the severe disability premium. I have agreed to do more for kinship carers and the most vulnerable 18 to 21-year-olds. We are also agreeing to work with Citizens Advice—an independent and trusted organisation—to help people to get on to the benefit. When we hear what we need to do, we will do it.