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Universal Credit

Volume 647: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2018

(Urgent Question): We hope the length of time it took the Minister to get to his place is reflected in the roll-out of universal credit.

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman but, at this stage, all he needs to do is to ask that the Minister makes a statement. The right hon. Gentleman will get his full opportunity ere long.

A thought for these new young Members. It is very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman but, in due course, when he is a bit more experienced—

I am just starting my career as an independent, but you are right, Mr Speaker.

The urgent question is: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if she will make a statement on her Department’s proposed changes to the roll-out of universal credit.

I note the precise wording of the urgent question. I have a great deal of respect for the right hon. Gentleman, who cares deeply about welfare matters and is an excellent Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. He, his Committee and the whole House have a right to hold the Government to account, and that includes the Department for Work and Pensions.

I do not wish to be unhelpful. However, some of the matters to which the right hon. Gentleman may allude are the subject of speculation in the media. There has been a great deal of speculation about universal credit over the past few days, and I cannot and will not comment on speculation.

When it comes to the roll-out, we have long said that we will take a slow and measured approach to managing migration, which is why we will continue to take a test-and-learn approach, acting on feedback and improving the system as it rolls out.

Universal credit will be in every jobcentre in the country by December 2018. People making new claims to our benefits system now apply for universal credit, rather than being put on the old system. Next year, we will start the wider process of moving people from the old benefits system on to universal credit. The process will begin later next year in a measured way, with no more than 10,000 people moved over, to ensure that the system is working well for claimants and to make any necessary adaptations as we go.

We have said for a long time that the managed migration process will take place from 2019 to 2023.

I think I am grateful for that answer. I will be more grateful if we get answers to my five questions, which I will put in the two minutes I am allowed.

Will the Government commit themselves to ensuring that everybody who is transferred from the existing benefits on to universal credit is not made worse off, does not lack income and does not face hunger or destitution? First, to that end, will the Minister guarantee that existing benefit payments will continue to claimants until they pick up universal credit?

Secondly, on debt recovery, a welcome rumour has been given to the papers of a reduction in clawback from 40% to 30%, but that is only on the advance people might receive to prevent hunger and destitution; it does not cover all other debts. People can still be left with no money. Will the Minister guarantee to the House that nobody will face a situation where their debt repayments cancel out their benefit payments?

Thirdly, will the Minister implement the Select Committee’s recommendations to ensure that those brave people who have chosen self-employment to try to free themselves from poverty are encouraged, not discouraged?

Fourthly, for mothers already on universal credit who find work, will he guarantee that their childcare payments will be made up front, and not a month in arrears?

Fifthly, given that this benefit is designed for people on monthly payments and not for poorer working people who get their income on a daily or weekly basis, will the Minister wish me luck when I meet the Secretary of State this afternoon to discuss our need for a citizens bank, which will help people manage their money, once all those reforms are in place, and ensure that none of them faces hunger, destitution or losing their home?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and perhaps I may go through them in turn. He raised the overall issue of managed migration. As he knows, we have made our draft proposals available to the Social Security Advisory Committee; they have been public and people can see them. We have received recommendations from the SSAC and in due course we will publish our feedback on those. As for ensuring the position of anyone currently on benefits when they are transferred across, we have made it very clear that transitional protection is in place for those individuals. We have also said that the 500,000 people on severe disability premium will be protected. As he knows, earlier this year we also implemented £1.5 billion of extra support. I say not in anger but in sorrow that Opposition Members did not support those proposals, and I hope that when it comes to managed migration, they will. On debt recovery, he talked about a “rumour” and I am not going to comment on rumours, but, as he knows, maximum deductions are currently 40% of the standard allowance. On self-employment, we are indeed helping people; as he knows, from 2017 we introduced a new enterprise allowance, and we are making sure that we are giving support to people to help them to develop their business plans and to grow their businesses—as a party that is the champion of entrepreneurs, that is absolutely the right thing for us to do. He will of course know that up to 85% of childcare costs are recoverable under universal credit, and that is an important improvement that has been made. I am sure that he will find his meeting with the Secretary of State extremely useful.

There is heavy pressure on time, with two further urgent questions to follow. There will of course also be a debate on this important matter tomorrow. It may not be possible to accommodate everybody, but the chances of doing so will be better if we have pithy questions, to be exemplified by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg).

The aim of getting the withdrawal rate of benefits down from more than 90% to 63% is enormously laudable, but can my hon. Friend ensure that people do not lose out in the transition?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; under the legacy benefits system, some people did face effective tax rates of 90% and that system also disincentivised people from work. As I have said, those on legacy benefits that we manage migrate across will of course receive transitional protection.

Universal credit is causing severe hardship for many people claiming it, and over the past two weeks conflicting statements from the Government have caused real confusion over the impact it will have on people who are required to move across to claim it in the next phase. First, we were told that austerity is over and then that families on low income are in danger of losing up to £200 a month as a result of transferring to UC. Next, the Prime Minister said that nobody would be worse off, but the Secretary of State contradicted her the following day by confirming that in fact some families would be worse off. So will the Government now publish their impact assessments of that next phase? How many households currently claiming legacy benefits will be worse off between now and 2023 as a result of making a claim for UC?

Yesterday, the Secretary of State met criticism of UC with accusations of scaremongering. So can the Minister tell us: are Citizens Advice, the Child Poverty Action Group, the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers, the Residential Landlords Association, the National Housing Federation, the Resolution Foundation, the National Audit Office, two former Prime Ministers and more than 80 organisations representing disabled people scaremongering? From these Benches, we again call on the Government to stop the roll-out of UC now.

It is interesting that the hon. Lady talks about confusion. Let me be absolutely clear: there is no confusion on the Government Benches; the confusion is on the Opposition Benches. The shadow Chancellor talks about abolishing universal credit and others talk about reforming it. There is no clarity at all from the Opposition. They oppose everything but they have the solution to nothing.

When it comes to hardship, as I just said we introduced an extra £1.5 billion, but the hon. Lady did not vote for or support that. When it comes to protecting people, I have already made it clear that we will have transitional protection and that there will be protection for the half a million people on severe disability premium. I do not know what the hon. Lady wants, but if she wants to go back to the legacy benefit system, she should know that 700,000 people in this country are not getting the benefits that they require. That is £2.4 billion of underpayment and that will change under universal credit. Finally, the hon. Lady talks about Citizens Advice; I hope that she will welcome the partnership we recently announced with Citizens Advice to help the very vulnerable.

More women in work, youth unemployment hugely down and record low unemployment not seen since the 1970s; what role has universal credit played in the delivery of that success?

I was in the House in 2010 when the Conservatives had to come in to sort out the mess left by the previous Government. Labour Members told us that as a result of our policies, there would be a million fewer jobs, but there are more than 3 million more jobs. They should welcome today’s jobs figures. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975, youth unemployment is at a record low—it has more than halved since 2010—and wages are outpacing inflation for the seventh month in a row.

Order. The House is in quite an excitable state. This is a matter of the utmost seriousness and there is passion, which I respect, but I am keen to accommodate as many people as possible. I call Mr Philip Hollobone.

I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. This is the trouble when there is a lot of noise. It is everybody else’s fault, not mine. [Laughter.] No, it is my fault and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I shall come to him. I call Neil Gray.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker.

In spite of what the Minister has just said, which I think was a return to the flat-earth rhetoric referred to by the BBC’s Michael Buchanan, it appears that the Secretary of State is finally starting to recognise what her predecessors failed to recognise: the fundamental problems with universal credit. Of course, just delaying the process, or reducing the clawback rate, as has been rumoured, will not fix the misery that is being faced in areas where universal credit has already been rolled out, such as Airdrie and Shotts, or in those areas progressing to roll out, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State hinted to me that she has made requests of the Chancellor for additional funding in the upcoming Budget. In that regard, the Chancellor should really be sitting with the Minister, listening to proceedings on how to make universal credit work. It appears that moves are afoot to change universal credit. If the Minister will not comment on rumours, why will he not be straight with the House now and tell us what the plans are? Does he not agree with the many concerned expert groups listed by the shadow Secretary of State that have called for a halt to the roll-out, dramatic and fundamental intervention in the Budget and a full review of universal credit thereafter?

As I have said and suspect I will have to keep saying, I am not going to comment on rumours. The Secretary of State was clear yesterday that matters relating to the Budget are for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Indeed, the Chancellor will be here in a couple of weeks and the hon. Gentleman can ask questions then. I have already set out our plans for managed migration. If the hon. Gentleman is keen for universal credit to work properly, he should support the measures that we have introduced and will be bringing in to support the most vulnerable. The shadow Secretary of State talked about the £1.5 billion; the debate was on 13 March this year and she did not support the £1.5 billion for the most vulnerable.

The roll-out of universal credit reaches Kettering tomorrow. Some 530 local households currently receive universal credit, but 7,700 households on legacy benefits will qualify. Will the Minister assure my constituents that all the staff training and systems are in place at Kettering jobcentre to ensure a smooth migration?

When we actually do roll out universal credit—as I have said, it will be completed across all jobcentres by the end of the year—we absolutely ensure that full training is given to our work coaches. Of course, local Members of Parliament are invited in to have discussions with jobcentres. I have been with colleagues to several jobcentres where universal credit is about to be rolled out and they have been satisfied with the roll-out process. On managed migration, that will take place from 2019 to 2023 and we will make sure that we get our processes absolutely right.

Universal credit rolled out in Wirral at the beginning of the year, and in the first six months of this year there was a 34% increase in food bank use in the Wirral area. That is more than 30 tonnes of extra food needed, and the people who work in the food bank tell me that that is a direct result of the universal credit roll-out. If everything is so wonderful, why is this happening and why are a Conservative ex-Prime Minister and a Labour ex-Prime Minister warning the Government that they have to change this system?

If the hon. Lady was so keen to help her constituents, she would have voted for the extra £1.5 billion of support, but she did not. Labour Members cannot get away from that. Members cannot call for help for their constituents—for all our constituents—and then not deliver when it comes to the votes. As the hon. Lady knows, the all-party group on hunger published a detailed report on this issue and concluded that there are myriad complex reasons for the use of food banks. It cannot be attributed to a single reason.

The Minister referred to moving people from legacy benefits on to universal credit; will he look into doing that for vulnerable people, rather than relying on them to make a new claim and risking there being a gap in their benefit receipts if they do not understand the process?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I am having a series of discussions with key stakeholders, as are the Secretary of State and others in the Department. We will make sure that we get the process absolutely right so that the vulnerable are helped.

Please excuse my voice, Mr Speaker; I am not very well today. But I am not nearly as badly off as my constituent, a women who was sexually assaulted, as were her children, and had to be moved to my constituency for her safety. I think that we can all agree that she would be considered vulnerable. Because of the change to her circumstance, this single, working mother is now £300 worse off. We are hearing today about what the Minister will do for people on managed migration, but what will he do for people who are forced on to universal credit through changes of circumstance that are not their fault?

As the hon. Lady knows, support is available in the system. I am sorry to hear about her constituent’s predicament. Of course, the whole point of universal credit is that it is a welfare system that also assists people into work. We have analysis that has been published that makes it very clear that under universal credit people get into work faster, stay in work longer and earn more.

I welcome the move to a system of benefits that no longer traps people out of work. A month into universal credit’s roll-out in Mansfield, staff at my local jobcentre are happy with the way things have progressed. Will the Minister confirm that under universal credit a million people who are disabled will see their regular income increase because of the new system?

I am pleased to hear that universal credit is rolling out in Mansfield and working well. I get a similar message when I go up and down the country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: 1 million disabled households will on average receive an extra £110 per month as a result of universal credit.

Why does the House have to rely on rumour and leaks to find out what is going on with universal credit? When will the Department for Work and Pensions release an impact assessment and an equality impact assessment, so that we can all see for ourselves what is happening with universal credit and what the Government will do to put it right?

As I said, we are reflecting on the Social Security Advisory Committee’s recommendations and will respond in due course. Of course, as we lay the regulations before Parliament, there will be opportunities for debate. The hon. Lady should be patient. We will publish the full plans for the next stage of the roll-out of universal credit, including managed migration, in due course.

I strongly welcome the Minister’s commitment to continuing “test and learn” as part of the roll-out of universal credit, as it has delivered several substantial improvements to UC over the past year and a half. As part of that process, will he consider extending the repayment time for advances?

As my hon. Friend knows, it is now possible for someone to get a 100% advance of their estimated first payment up front on the first day. Advances are interest-free and repayable over 12 months. As I said, I am not going to create policy at the Dispatch Box. Policy decisions will be put out in the appropriate manner as they are made.

What message does the Minister have for beleaguered DWP staff? A trade union briefing sent to MPs yesterday tells a sorry tale of staff having to deal with so many telephone calls that universal credit claims are not being maintained and payments are being delayed.

I wager that I have been to rather more jobcentres than the hon. Gentleman, and I invariably hear from jobcentre staff that things are working well. However, where we can improve, we do, and staff can feed back about improvements. That is what the “test and learn” process is all about.

Universal credit was rolled out in Torbay last month, and I have so far seen a reduction in casework from those who have experienced housing benefit delays, for example, and those who have received demands for overpaid tax credits. Will the Minister outline how he is monitoring the roll-out in Torbay and how he will ensure that it continues to be a success?

My hon. Friend is assiduous at talking to local jobcentres and acting on his constituents’ behalf. We, of course, have a process whereby jobcentres can feed back information on some of the key metrics, which we monitor regularly.

Given that no lessons whatsoever seem to have been learned from the roll-out of full service universal credit since last year, how on earth would just slowing down the roll-out stop the misery, deprivation and even destitution that millions are facing?

We are learning as we go along, which is what the “test and learn” process is all about. I hope that the hon. Lady will appreciate the roll-out of the landlord portal and the ability to upload childcare costs. The changes we are making are helping the very people whom require that help: her constituents and mine.

I welcome how universal credit is encouraging and enabling people to do more work, but will my hon. Friend assure me that those for whom work is a real challenge, such as single parents of pre-school children, will have sufficient income under universal credit?

As I have just said, 85% of childcare costs can be recouped under universal credit, which is an improvement on the legacy system.

I welcome the reports of imminent reform. Ministers can justify the five-week delay in universal credit only in cases where people have just left a monthly paid job. Yesterday, he told the House:

“The five-week wait has no savings implications for the Exchequer.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2018; Vol. 647, c. 395.]

Will he therefore now scrap it?

As I said both earlier and yesterday, the reason why we ensured that people can get 100% of their advance up front and an extra two-week run-on of housing benefit was to help them with their cash flows. The vast majority of people in this country are paid monthly, and the whole point is that we are replicating the world of work.

On 5 December in my constituency, people on UC live—about 660 people—will transition to full-service UC. As claimants move to full-service UC, will the Minister confirm that they will see no change in their benefits? Will he also confirm that he will meet specialists, such as those from the charity Mind, to ensure that there is support for disabled people before full migration from legacy benefits?

As I said, I am in the process of meeting stakeholders, and I have indeed met Mind, as have other colleagues. We will of course ensure that we do everything that we can to take care of the vulnerable.

Yesterday, I raised an issue affecting a constituent who lost her regular universal credit payment because two months’ wages, paid on the last day of consecutive months, were taken into account, but the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), dismissed my question. Will Ministers now investigate that anomaly, which is affecting countless people, and put the matter right?

Will the Minister give all the work coaches a big pat on the back? They will be disappointed as they listen to this type of spectacle, but they work incredibly hard to turn people’s lives around.

My hon. Friend is right. Work coaches across the country work incredibly hard, and I wish that Opposition Members would sometimes praise them, rather than denigrating the system.

The right choice, Mr Speaker.

The Minister’s tone this afternoon is very abrasive, and he does not seem to be listening to genuine concerns from Members on both sides of the House. We understand that the Government may want to save some announcements for the upcoming Budget, but I would have thought that the extent of concern about universal credit from across the country would have led him to make some solid announcements before then so that we can reassure our constituents.

I have no wish to be abrasive, and if I have been, I of course apologise. However, the appropriate time to talk about any financial measures is at the Budget, as I have said. Such matters are for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, and there will be an opportunity in a couple of weeks’ time for Members to raise their points of view when the Chancellor comes to the House.

We hear today that Britain has just seen the strongest growth in wages for nine years. We should make real work pay through stronger real wages, not by going back to the bad old days of unsustainable growth in the benefits bill.

My hon. Friend is right. Regular wages are up 3.1% this year, and I agree that we now have a system in place whereby work pays. The analysis that we have published shows that people get paid more under universal credit.

Universal credit is due to be rolled out in Barrow just three weeks before Christmas this year—the worst possible time—and there is currently no certainty that debt relief will be provided for the area. Will the Minister rethink and postpone the roll-out?

The roll-out in Reading, which I represent, took place prior to Christmas last year. There were no issues, and I very much hope that things will be the same in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but I am happy to have a discussion to ensure that he is talking to his jobcentre and that he gets the comfort he needs.

There is strong support for the principles and intent of universal credit among not only Conservative Members, but my constituents. However, the Minister can be assured that if more money or further changes to universal credit are required, that will also receive the support of Conservative Members and my constituents.

As I have said, we are taking a “test and learn” approach to universal credit. We make changes when we are required to do so, and I have talked about some of the changes that we have made. My hon. Friend mentions money, but as I have said, the proper time to have any such discussions is at the Budget, and such matters are ultimately for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.

The Minister will recall that I have invited him several times to meet my local housing associations, which expect universal credit to be rolled out in December. When will he come to Glasgow to hear the message that he needs to halt the roll-out of universal credit and fix it?

I apologise if I have not been to Scotland yet—I hope I will put that right in near time—but I have been going up and down the country to jobcentres, talking to people, and I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that universal credit is working.

Universal credit replaces six complex benefits, some of which are mutually exclusive. My hon. Friend the Minister has confirmed that 700,000 people do not claim the benefits that they are entitled to. When universal credit applies to those people, how much on average will they gain?

My hon. Friend is right: people have been underpaid benefits. On average, households will gain £285 a month. Under the previous system, 1.4 million people spent a decade trapped on benefits instead of being helped into work. That is changing under universal credit.

During yesterday’s Work and Pensions questions, I raised with the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work cases of my constituents who were not in receipt of transitional protection during a change of circumstances. The Minister told me I was wrong. I double-checked those cases with the Library and with others—I have dozens of similar cases—and it was not me who was wrong but the Minister. I think that there is a desire that such people will get that protection, but they do not at the moment. If Ministers do not know their policy, how can the rest of us have confidence in universal credit?

To clarify, what will happen under universal credit, once we pass the regulations—[Interruption.] What will happen under managed migration, when we pass the regulations, is that anyone who is currently—[Interruption.] If I may explain, anyone on legacy benefits who is moved across to universal credit will have transitional protection.

The principles of universal credit are sound. Only a small number of people have come to my office to challenge it, and when there have been challenges, the Government have clearly listened. Will the Government continue to listen to issues raised by Members and look to refine the system to make sure that we get this absolutely right for people?

We are a listening Department in a listening Government, as we have shown with universal credit.

Universal credit is due to be rolled out in Redcar and Cleveland on 28 November—just before Christmas, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said. Will the Minister guarantee today that none of the 11,000 households that are due to be transitioned, of which 6,000 include children, will be financially worse off? If he cannot guarantee that, will he stop the roll-out now?

Universal credit is a new benefit that simplifies the system. Ultimately, this is about having a system that helps the most vulnerable, that is fair to the taxpayer, that is sustainable and, importantly, that helps people into work and to get better-paid work. That is precisely what we are doing through universal credit.

I thank the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) for securing this important urgent question. There has been movement from the Government on the gig economy for the self-employed, which pleases me because I have advocated that for a few years, including when I was in the coalition. There has also been movement on making rental payments to private sector landlords, which again I am pleased about, as it was something I advocated. In that spirit of positivity, will the Minister acknowledge that if the Chancellor were to replace the work allowance money that was cut in 2015 by the previous Chancellor, it would make a substantial difference to the success of universal credit?

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman outlines some of our positive changes, which prove that “test and learn” works. I am sorry to disappoint him once again, but those are matters for the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, and we will hear more about the Budget at the appropriate time.

I secured a debate on universal credit 18 months ago to highlight the misery it had caused in Newcastle, as a pilot area. The misery continues: rent arrears in social housing have doubled; private landlords will not accept universal credit claimants; and the city council has spent £750,000 supporting vulnerable claimants. What is the point of a pilot if the Government continue to roll out the misery regardless?

On rent arrears, the hon. Lady may have seen the report produced by the National Federation of ALMOs—I believe it came out in July—which stated that, of their tenants moving on to universal credit, 76% were already in arrears. That was before they moved on to universal credit. We introduced changes with the extra £1.5 billion to help people moving from housing benefit with their cash flow, giving them a two-week run-on, which does not have to be repaid. It is possible under universal credit to have alternative payment arrangements with payments made directly to landlords.

Has the Minister also seen the research that was published yesterday by the Residential Landlords Association, which found that two thirds of private landlords are concerned about universal credit tenants falling into arrears and that the average arrears owed has doubled in the last year? What urgent action will he take to resolve that problem?

As I said, we are rolling out the landlord portal for social housing, which is working. It is also possible for alternative payment arrangements to be put in place for tenants of private landlords—that is part of the system.

Universal credit full service reaches Ceredigion in December. Further to questions asked by other Opposition Members, does the Minister share our concern that, just when it will be needed most, our constituents will have limited access to support, as services will be reduced over the festive period?

Again, I am happy to discuss the hon. Gentleman’s concerns with him and his jobcentre staff to make sure that he gets the assurances that he wants.

The Minister failed to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), so I will ask it again. When universal credit is rolled out in Sheffield next month, will he guarantee that none of my constituents will be worse off?

I repeat my previous answer: it depends on people’s individual circumstances. This new benefit system is ultimately about making sure that we help people into work. I have to say that, under the last Labour Government, many people were trapped on benefits, but that is changing.

The National Audit Office says that there is no way of measuring outcomes of the universal credit roll-out, yet the Government and Government Members peddle the myth that universal credit somehow magics people into jobs. Will the Minister therefore explain why 930 more people are now registered as unemployed in my constituency compared with a year ago—a 54% increase?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to the claimant count, but people both in and out of work receive universal credit. I encourage him to look at the universal credit business case that we produced, which shows that, as a result of the universal credit roll-out, another 200,000 people will be in work.

Wolverhampton Homes, which runs council housing in Wolverhampton, reports that 67% of universal credit claimants are in rent arrears and that those rent arrears are going up by £60,000 a month. Will the Minister call a halt to the roll-out until the problems of debt, stress and, possibly, impending homelessness are addressed?

We have put in support for individuals—I have talked about that. Of course, also very importantly, we now have this partnership with Citizens Advice, which is a respected, nationwide, independent organisation. It is there to help and assist the most vulnerable.

The two-child policy limiting the financial support to low-income families has already affected 400,000 children, making their families £4,000 a year worse off. When it is eventually rolled out through universal credit, some 3 million children will be affected. Will the Minister commit today to scrapping this abhorrent part of the wider welfare policy?

Universal credit is a welfare system that is about being fair to the most vulnerable people and to taxpayers, and being sustainable. The reason for that policy is that taxpayers face similar choices. It is important to say that we have exemptions in place, which will include kinship carers.

If the system is such a success, will the Minister explain why everyone—whether constituents or those from advisory services—who came to my special surgeries at the start of this month were so concerned? Is not it the fact that the austerity that is hard-wired into universal credit has been an ideological choice for years? Will the Government therefore now make the choice to pause universal credit in Glasgow and elsewhere until these issues are sorted out?

I would be happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman about where he has found that his constituents have issues getting on to universal credit, and I will take up those individual cases.

Can we take it from the Minister’s answers to the questions of my hon. Friends the Members for Redcar (Anna Turley) and for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) that he is admitting to the House that people are being made worse off as a result of universal credit?

I have said that under universal credit we have a system that is finally delivering for the most vulnerable and for taxpayers, that is sustainable and that—above all—is helping people into work. That means that people get into work faster, they stay in work longer and, really importantly, they earn more.

Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), promised the House that, under managed migration, vulnerable people would be guaranteed a face-to-face interview. When will trials of that approach start so that we can all test and learn whether the Government are getting it right?

We are of course talking to the key stakeholders, particularly those who deal with the most vulnerable people, and we want to ensure that we put in place processes to support them. We are thinking very deeply about this matter.

As I have said, we have a system of universal credit that is about being fair to the most vulnerable and taxpayers and that is sustainable. The hon. Gentleman will know that changes made previously were voted on in the general election in 2015 and in this House in 2016. The key thing is to ensure that we are supporting the most vulnerable people. Under managed migration, we will give protections to those who are migrating across from legacy benefits; 1 million disabled households will gain and half a million people on severe disability premium will also be protected.

The DWP has no process in place to identify people with high support needs and instead relies on claimants to self-identify. What will the Minister do to ensure that disabled claimants who experience difficulties making a claim will not be left without the support and finance that they need?

People will get one-to-one support under universal credit. They have an opportunity to have a discussion with their work coach and develop that relationship, meaning that they can be signposted to the support that they need. It is working.

Universal credit was introduced with three principles: it was supposed to simplify the system, but more than 300,000 people will be paid late this year through no fault of their own; it was supposed to save money, but it costs three times as much to administer; and it was supposed to get people into work, but the NAO states clearly that the Government

“will never be able to measure”

whether they have achieved that goal. What went wrong and who has taken responsibility for this failure?

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman talks about employment on the day that we have reached a record low level of unemployment since 1975. The policies of this Government are clearly working: 80% of first payments are made fully and on time; in some cases, that figure gets up to 90%. It is important that we get the right information from people to be able to verify their costs. If we are able to do that, payments are made.

Despite the Minister’s responses today, universal credit is causing chaos, hardship and unnecessary suffering to people in my constituency as they seek to access essential support. Will he accept my invitation to visit my constituency to discuss the challenges of universal credit with my constituents so he can explain to them why he believes that universal credit is working?

I do visit jobcentres in different parts of the country. If the hon. Lady would like, we could have a discussion with the people in her jobcentre who are delivering this service; I am happy to arrange a call together with her.

Now that the Minister has confirmed that some people will be worse off when universal credit rolls out in Sheffield on 7 November, will he make it clear to the House exactly who those people will be?

People’s individual circumstances determine what they get under any benefit system. The point of the urgent question was to talk about the whole process of roll-out and managed migration. As I said, when people migrate across under managed migration, they will receive transitional protection.

Order. I am happy to call all remaining colleagues wishing to pose a question, as long as their standing up signifies their acceptance that they will ask a single-sentence question.

Speculation, rumours, confusing—mentioned by the Minister earlier. Was that the “Dancing Queen” speech about austerity being over?

I apologise; I did not hear the hon. Gentleman’s question clearly. I think he talked about rumours, which I will not be commenting on.

Five years after the start of the universal credit pilot in Inverness, Highland Council has had a £2.5 million bill for administering universal credit, paid by every single household in the highlands. When will the Minister respond to Highland Council’s request—and mine—to pay that money back?

There is a new burdens policy in place, and the DWP has paid out to local councils. I believe that the figure for 2017-18 was around £13 million. If the hon. Gentleman forwards me the correspondence, I would be happy to look at it.

Last Wednesday marked World Mental Health Day. The Mental Health Nurses Association stated in its letter to the Secretary of State that universal credit

“will make matters much worse, especially for those living with mental ill health.”

Given the stress, uncertainty and poverty caused by universal credit, is it not time to scrap the roll-out?

My ministerial colleagues and I have regular discussions with key stakeholders, particularly those representing the most vulnerable. We will continue to do that, and we will work with them to ensure that the managed migration process delivers for the most vulnerable.

It is reported in today’s Daily Record that South Lanarkshire Council has warned its employees that because they are on four-weekly pay and will get two payments in November, they stand to lose their universal credit over Christmas and will have to reapply. What will the Minister do to fix this shambles?

What will the Minister do to address the fact that too many applications for vital alternative payment arrangements are being delayed, ignored or even lost by the DWP, totally undermining their purpose?

If the hon. Gentleman has individual cases of constituents facing these difficulties, he should bring them to me. I cannot react to general comments, which we hear quite a lot from the Opposition. When Members have specific cases, they should bring them forward and we will deal with them.

I will be as brief as I can. For all the reasons outlined by my colleagues, the roll-out should be stopped and people should not lose out, especially given that a lot of people have been driven into the hands of money lenders as a result of the roll-out.

As I have said, we will be bringing forward the managed migration regulations later this year. If the Opposition want to support people and ensure that they are protected, they should vote for those regulations together with us.

Someone making a claim on 5 December, the day that universal credit starts at Shettleston jobcentre—not Bridgeton, as the Minister found out yesterday, because he has already shut that jobcentre—will receive no money until 9 January. Is the Minister happy to be known as the Grinch that stole Glasgow’s Christmas?

I have never been described as a Grinch before. The hon. Lady ought to be encouraging her constituents—clearly this discussion is had by work coaches when claimants come in—to talk about the advance that is available for people. [Interruption.] Well, it is interest-free. Also, as I have said, those on housing benefit get two weeks’ run-on.

Some 72% of universal credit sanctions in Scotland hit those aged under 30, one in five of whom are 18 or 19 years old. As full-service universal credit rolls out at Springburn jobcentre in my constituency from 31 October, will the Minister at least suspend all sanctions until after Christmas?

Sanctions are implemented only once there has been a detailed process, and there is an opportunity for individuals who are facing a potential referral to explain to decision makers why there are mitigating circumstances.

Universal credit comes to Castlemilk jobcentre in December. The Minister will know that one, because he tried and failed to close it down. Can he guarantee that there will be no more closures or changes to jobcentre provision in the city of Glasgow?

We have reconfigured the jobcentre estate, as the hon. Gentleman knows. He will also know that part of the reason was that we were paying for 20% of space that we were not using. We now have a jobcentre estate that is fit for the 21st century.

The Minister has answered a number of questions about double payments in a four-week period. Christmas is coming, and the majority of part-time workers who claim universal credit will be double-paid, so their universal credit will then be affected in the next payment period. These are not individual cases, although they are individual people. This is a system fault and it should be put right for this Christmas.

As I have said, universal credit adjusts depending on the amount of money that people are earning. In periods when they are not earning a salary, obviously their universal credit payment would go up.

Can the Minister assure those in my constituency—a vast area of 7,000 sq km, with 23 islands and only five jobcentres—with limited connectivity that they will not be penalised as they are unable to access their online journals?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is possible to phone jobcentres, and in cases where people are vulnerable, it is also possible for home visits to be made.

May I thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker? Huge numbers of people will know after our proceedings that they have not been deserted by their MPs. Thank you very much.

Well, it is a pleasure. My job is simply to facilitate the House in discussing in this place what people are discussing in the Dog and Duck, around the dinner table and in the workplace.

And in the Department for Work and Pensions, as the right hon. Gentleman pertinently observes. I am very grateful to him for what he has just said.