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Topical Questions

Volume 652: debated on Monday 7 January 2019

Universal credit is a vital reform that overhauls a legacy system that trapped people out of work; with six different benefits and three different places, it was utterly confusing. All new claimants now receive universal credit. In the future, we will move claimants who have not changed circumstances from legacy benefits to universal credit in an approach known as managed migration. It is right that the Government eventually operate one system. The Department has long planned to support 10,000 people through this process before increasing the number of people migrated. That will provide an opportunity to learn how to provide the best support, while keeping Parliament fully informed of our approach.

The local jobcentre staff in Clacton do some excellent work and should be commended. However, the Secretary of State will know—I raised this case with her a little while ago—that for various reasons one constituent was unable to access some services at the jobcentre. In the end we were able to help this man, but what more can the Department do to ensure that outreach is available so that these vital services can reach even claimants who cannot make it to the jobcentre or who, like me, have difficulty dealing with IT stuff?

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing this case to my attention and for all the work he does with the jobcentre to ensure that his constituents have the right access to universal credit. Work coaches are trained to give additional support where it is needed, whether that is with IT or for people who require a home visit. We estimate that there have been nearly 300,000 home visits in the past year to ensure that people get the tailored support they need.

Nearly half a million senior citizens living abroad, who have paid in all their life, currently enjoy the guarantee that their state pension will be uprated annually. The same is true for pension entitlement built up working in another European Union state. With 81 days to go until Brexit, does the Minister recognise that the Government’s total mishandling of Brexit means that we might crash out with a no-deal Brexit, and that in those circumstances it would be not just our jobs and economy that would be put at risk but the security and dignity of a whole generation of pensioners?

The Government have a cross-departmental strategy on Brexit. The reality is that the policy for overseas pensioners has continued since the second world war, was endorsed by the previous Labour Government and is continued by this Government.

T2. I have seen at first hand the benefits that universal credit can bring by giving people a job and helping them to turn their lives around, and I have also heard the frustrations of work coaches that there are still many people on legacy benefits who do not get that same good service. May I therefore welcome the latest test and learn approach, but ask the Secretary of State to ensure that we still move towards change and deliver? (908389)

I thank my hon. Friend for the good work that he has done as a champion of universal credit, recognising, as we all do on the Government Benches—and as I hope all Opposition Members will do—the good work that universal credit does at the hands of really caring, personalised work coaches, who ensure that the claimants we all seek to serve get the tailored support they need. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that as a resounding yes.

T3. Why have not the Government published a recent equalities impact assessment of the plans for managed migration to universal credit? What have they got to hide? (908391)

We have previously published an equalities assessment and, as we have noted, we will do the same ahead of the full roll-out of managed migration.

T4. As universal credit is rolled out in Havant, I welcome the use of new technology to help applicants. What support is available to those applicants to ensure that they make the best use of the new systems? (908392)

As my hon. Friend will know, we now have a new partnership with Citizens Advice to deliver universal credit support, and his constituency is part of the early mobilisation of that programme. However, it is important that for those who are not able to use such technology, we still make a freephone helpline available, and that, as the Secretary of State has outlined, home visits can be arranged.

T6. Church of England figures suggest that 5,500 children in my constituency alone may be affected by the roll-out of the two-child limit, which will restrict all new claims for universal credit to the first two children in a family. By the time this policy rolls out, it will affect 3 million children, pushing them into poverty. Will the Secretary of State meet me and campaigners from different organisations, from the Church of England to Rape Crisis and women’s organisations, to discuss the impact that this policy will have? Will she pause the policy and stop it rolling out from 1 February this year? (908394)

We think this is the right thing to do. It is fair to taxpayers, some of whom are on very low incomes, to ensure that the support that we provide under universal credit is for two children so that people who are on benefits have the same choices to make as people on low incomes in thinking about whether to have a third child. On the other point that the hon. Lady raised, I am carefully considering what action needs to be taken.

T5. I am pleased that employment levels in Crawley are above the national average, but what further support can be provided to get more people into work so that they can realise their full potential and that of our economy? (908393)

I thank my hon. Friend for the enormous amount of work that he does in supporting employers so that they can create jobs. He is right. We need to make sure that the jobs market is very strong, and that is why we make support available through universal credit, with one-to-one interaction.

T7. Does the Minister think that a 47-week average wait for a PIP appeal hearing at the Coventry centre is acceptable, particularly considering that the person appealing will not receive any money during that time and that 80% of decisions are overturned at tribunal? (908395)

No, I do not think that that time is at all acceptable. That is why we have been working so closely with our colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to make sure that people can have their appeals heard much more swiftly. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that more than 200 new judges have been recruited to the tribunal, and that through the use of automation we are beginning to see waiting times for appeals reducing greatly. But let us look at this overall: PIP works for the vast majority of people, and of the decisions that have been made, only 9% have been taken to appeal and 5% overturned. We are constantly looking to make sure that we make the right decision the first time, but the situation is improving.

It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency last summer and see the fantastic work and the jobs revolution that is taking place in Basildon. It was also a pleasure to meet dBD Communications, one of his top companies, which has done a fantastic job in creating new employment and getting new training work done, and has an expanded order book that is enhancing job opportunities in Basildon.

T9. On 19 December, I received the observations of the Secretary of State in response to a public petition that I had submitted on behalf of my constituents calling for a halt of universal credit and for the problems to be fixed. Her response concluded that“we can see no reason to halt the rollout of Universal Credit”.So what, if anything, has changed in the past three weeks? (908397)

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there has been no change. We are continuing with the plan to have a pilot of 10,000 people, which we will use to ensure that the managed migration in 2020 happens in the most effective, efficient and compassionate way.

While some employers do fantastic work to help ex-offenders into work, do Ministers agree that we now need some disclosure, to show up employers that blatantly discriminate against ex-offenders for no good reason to stop them getting jobs?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I applaud his campaign to “ban the box”. More companies should be like Timpson, which has been an outstanding employer and has conclusively proved that employing ex-offenders is good policy and that they make great employees.

We have been told time and again that people will not be worse off under universal credit, but my constituent is £463 a month worse off after transferring from tax credits in work to universal credit. Is that something the Government are proud of?

I am happy to look at the individual case that the hon. Lady raises, but I would point out that £2.4 billion was unclaimed under the legacy benefit system, and that is changing under universal credit.

I would like to put on the record my thanks to the Secretary of State for listening and changing her approach to managed migration. I think we will see a step change in how vulnerable claimants feel about their security under universal credit. I have given her a list of other areas of UC that need improving. I urge her to look at one area that will completely revolutionise how people feel about the system—the five-week wait has got to go. If we make the advance payment the first payment rather than a loan, we will see food bank usage and the whole system transformed immeasurably.

I thank my hon. Friend. There are many contributions on how we can improve universal credit. Some of them carry quite a big price tag, and some have had more success with the Treasury than others. I look forward to further conversations with the Chancellor in due course.

Under tax credits, under-25 lone parents got paid the higher over-25 rate. Under universal credit, they do not. What is the Secretary of State going to do about that? I ask her on behalf of the group of young parents from Newport who are worse off under this system and in hardship.

I am always happy to meet the hon. Lady to talk about these issues. As she will know, the changes we introduced in the Budget mean that work allowances are going up by £1,000 precisely to support those who need it—individuals with children and, of course, the disabled.