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Topical Questions

Volume 647: debated on Monday 15 October 2018

When we were here last, Members in all parts of the House were asking whether Citizens Advice could be more involved with universal credit. I am pleased to inform them today that I went away and secured that agreement, and that Citizens Advice, as an independent organisation, will be giving universal support and assisting claimants with universal credit.

Universal credit was introduced in my constituency early in 2017. Although there were initial problems following the changes made by the Government at the end of last year, Citizens Advice has reported a significant reduction in the number of difficulties. Jobcentre Plus staff also report a very positive effect in getting people back to work. Does that endorse the principle that we should seek not to reject universal credit, but to reform it?

My hon. Friend is right. Work coaches are saying that this is the best system that they have ever had. It has been helping 1,000 people into work each and every day since 2010. My hon. Friend is also right to say that when we see that things need to be improved and adapted, we listen, we learn, and we change it as it goes.

Under universal credit, severely disabled people will lose out on disability premiums worth up to £80 per week, and will also lose the £30 “limited capability for work” component. Last week, the Secretary of State said that 1 million disabled people would be “significantly better off” under universal credit. Let me ask her now whether that is really the case. Is not the reality that after the premiums and the £30 component have been scrapped, disabled people will in fact be worse off overall under universal credit?

The Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that we will be protecting people who currently receive the severe disability premium. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Lady just listen? A million disabled households who are now receiving legacy benefits will gain, on average, £110 a month on universal credit. Those are the facts, and the hon. Lady should try to accept them.

T2. The roll-out of universal credit will come to Willenhall in my constituency on Wednesday. Will the Minister join me in endorsing the work of Walsall Housing Group and its Rent First programme, which is helping tenants to prepare for that transition? (907062)

I know that my hon. Friend has great experience in this area, and I should be very excited to hear about those proposals in more detail. I am keen to meet him to establish whether any lessons can be learned.

T4. Shortly after the 2015 general election, the then Chancellor removed £3 billion per annum from universal credit. That would never have been allowed to happen had the Liberals still been in government. Members of all parties in the House have urged the Secretary of State to urge the Chancellor to replace the £3 billion work allowance so that work really does pay; will she do so? (907064)

It is absolutely clear that under universal credit work is paying. That is why we have over 3 million more people in jobs than in 2010.

T5. I welcome the announcement that Citizens Advice will be providing universal support in Dudley South and across the country. Can the Minister explain how this will benefit my constituents, and particularly their timely access to universal credit? (907065)

Through Citizens Advice, which we are rolling out across the country, it will be possible particularly for the most vulnerable to get support in terms of budgeting help and also digital support.

T3. We have heard a lot of warm words from the Secretary of State and Members on the Government Benches about universal credit, but I was recently approached by a constituent who has had to give up a well-paid job because of severe anxiety and depression and who, after the wait for universal credit, is going to be £400 a month worse off, so will the Secretary of State disown the Prime Minister’s assertion that austerity is over, because it certainly isn’t for people on universal credit? (907063)

We have been absolutely clear that there are going to be protections in place for those currently on legacy benefits as we move across to universal credit. I do wish the Opposition would stop scaring people from moving on to universal credit.

T7. I welcome the announcement that the Department is providing work experience, and working with Barnardo’s to provide work experience, for care leavers. What further support is my hon. Friend offering to care leavers to ensure they fulfil their potential? (907067)

This is a real priority for our Secretary of State and it will involve building on our work to enable care leavers to make advanced UC claims, access to the youth application support programme, early access to the Work and Health programme and extensions to second chance learning, and we will work with employers to create more opportunities to build on this partnership with Barnardo’s.[Official Report, 18 October 2018, Vol. 647, c. 10MC.]

T6. I had a constituent with severe learning impairment who, being unable to read the letters she received about the transition to PIP, had her DLA payments suspended. How can the Secretary of State justify a managed migration for disabled people when the Government cannot even get the basics right of communicating with people? (907066)

I advise the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to use the telephone service or for one of their friends or family members to call up, because it is absolutely essential that people who have any sort of disability that prevents them from accessing their benefit have those barriers overcome: so pick up the phone and the support will be available.

Some 10,000 of my hon. Friend’s constituents are benefiting from automatic enrolment, with thanks to the 1,800 employers involved, and nationally workplace pension provision for women and young people has now doubled in the last five years.

T8. Ministers defend the five-week wait for universal credit on the basis that employees will have had a month’s pay in their bank account when they left their previous job. Does the Minister accept that that case simply does not apply to employees paid weekly or those on zero-hours contracts? (907068)

I have huge respect for the right hon. Gentleman, as he knows, but that is precisely why we introduced this £1.5 billion of support earlier this year, which means people can get advances up front—up to 100%—and those on housing benefit get a two-week run-on, which is money that does not have to be repaid.

I recently hosted a Disability Confident event in Baildon in my constituency. As somebody who employs somebody with multiple disabilities, I know that many workforces are losing out on a huge pool of talent. May I therefore urge the Minister to advertise the benefits of Access to Work more widely so we can get even more disabled people into work?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his personal leadership in his constituency and for employing a disabled person and drawing on all the talents that our nation has to offer. Access to Work is a fantastic scheme helping record numbers of people and we will continue to do everything we can to make sure disabled people can work.

My constituent Paul is agoraphobic and has a personality disorder, heart damage and a history of self-harm. After a tribunal accepted that he could not attend an assessment centre, the centre for health and disability assessment has blocked his employment and support allowance and universal credit by refusing him a home assessment. Will the Minister apply some common sense and overrule the decision?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious point. Home assessments are of course an important part of our processes. I am very disappointed to hear about that case, which I will be happy to look into.

I commend the staff at Ayr jobcentre, who recently hosted a successful employment fair at which we discussed the value of flexibility in the universal credit system in helping vulnerable claimants back into work. Will my right hon. Friend consider what further support might be useful to jobcentres in hosting future employment fairs across the United Kingdom?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I visited his constituency over the summer to see what terrific work his work coaches were doing. We will be implementing more work in outreach and developing our flexible fund to help more people.

Birmingham’s food banks have had their busiest year ever—70% of their demand is due to universal credit. Can I give the Secretary of State a choice? Either pause this crazy roll-out or come to Birmingham and help us to raise the tonne and a half of food we need each month to replenish the empty food bank stock.

We have had this discussion in a number of questions now. Can I be absolutely clear? The right hon. Gentleman should look at the report produced by the all-party parliamentary group on hunger, which said that the reasons for food bank usage are complex and myriad, and cannot be put down to any single reason.

I warmly welcome the announcement by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), of a consultation on collective defined contribution schemes. However, I had anticipated that it would come out before my ten-minute rule Bill on Wednesday. Will he give us an update as to when we might see it?

I am delighted that my hon. Friend has raised this point. The consultation will be of assistance to Royal Mail and the thousands of posties in his constituency. We will be consulting on the matter very shortly.

Under managed migration, claimants of legacy benefits will effectively have to apply anew for universal credit, and some vulnerable claimants may not realise and lose transitional protection as a result. Will the Minister look again at how those claimants can ensure that they retain their transitional protection?

The Secretary of State, other Ministers and I are having detailed engagement with the various health groups that the hon. Lady is talking about. We are, of course, looking at the recommendations made by the Social Security Advisory Committee.

On Friday, I am hosting Angus’s first Disability Confident event in Forfar. Will my hon. Friend join me in celebrating employers who are taking part to learn how they can benefit from the untapped potential of those living with disabilities in our communities?

My hon. Friend is an absolute champion for all her constituents, but particularly those with disabilities and health conditions who want to work. I really welcome her setting up of this jobs fair in her constituency on Friday and encourage as many local people as possible to sign up to Disability Confident.

One of the concerns being expressed by constituents about the universal credit roll-out is literacy levels and people’s unwillingness and fear about being able to complete forms. Given that universal credit is to be fully rolled out in my constituency in December, what assurance can the Minister give me that those with poor literacy levels with receive the support they need to get the benefits that they need and deserve?

Universal support has been available since 2017, but our partnership with Citizens Advice is clearly a step up. I hope that that will make a positive difference to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.