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Universal Credit: Roll-out

Volume 662: debated on Monday 1 July 2019

The national roll-out of universal credit was completed in December 2018. As of May 2019, there are now more than 2 million people claiming universal credit, and of those, 34% are in work. We now plan to begin “the move to UC” pilot later this month.

The right hon. Lady’s Government promised that

“universal credit should not leave councils out of pocket.”

Yet Highland Council has nearly £3 million of additional costs, including £640,000 of indisputable administration costs, directly as a result of universal credit. Despite letters, questions and meetings with officials and Ministers, where details and data have all been provided, there is still no settlement. When will this debt to highland households finally be repaid?

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter before and has had a number of meetings with the Minister for Employment. As a result of some of those meetings, we have already increased the additional funds available to councils such as the one to which he refers. There has been an increase in the total amount of new burdens money that has been paid out, but we have also said that we will investigate further. I want to reassure him that this is not finished yet, and that I will continue to look at it myself to ensure that there is satisfaction.

May I thank my right hon. Friend for her very successful visit to Stirling last Thursday and Friday? When we met the work coaches and the other staff of the Department of Work and Pensions team at Randolphfield, was she struck, as I was once again, by their degree of dedication and their genuine concern for the claimants with whom they work? They are a credit to themselves and to the DWP team. Does she agree that, rather than spread fear and scaremongering, Scottish National party Members should be encouraging the people who live in their constituencies to go to the DWP to get the help that they need, confident that they will be respected and treated with genuine dignity?

I thank my hon. Friend for his important question and for setting up the visit, which was so useful and purposeful. I do note that when I went to the jobcentre and met the work coaches, they were passionate about delivering the right outcomes for their constituents. When we asked them what they would change about universal credit, they said the publicity, because they are so committed to getting the right outcomes for the right people. These are people who are doing good work for good people.

Will the Secretary of State confirm for the record that any EU national who has been granted settled status in the United Kingdom is regarded as being habitually resident for the purposes of applying for and receiving universal credit?

That is largely correct. The only issue here is about the evidence that people now have to supply which they did not have to supply before. I know that there are a number of places where people were able to claim benefits and they now no longer qualify for universal credit. We are looking at those individually to see whether it is an issue with their application for settled status or something else.

21. Universal credit was rolled out in my area last year. Staff at my local citizens advice bureau found that, last year, 1,882 people contacted them in relation to debt linked to universal credit. Surely that is an indication of how many people are finding difficulty in managing during that initial five-week wait. Will the Secretary of State tell me when the Government will act to end the misery of the five-week wait? (911662)

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, which is about assistance in getting the applications through, we announced in April this year the help-to-claim arrangements so that applicants who are struggling to apply for universal credit can have the additional support they need from citizens advice bureaux. I hope that he will find that that is working well in his local bureau. On the second part about getting money to people earlier, as he will be aware, we have made advances available and we are extending the amount of time over which people have to repay it and the amount that is deducted from their core amounts so that they do not feel it as badly as they would have previously.

Research released last week from the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England shows that women are being forced to choose between poverty and an abortion because of this Government’s two-child cap—that is the reality facing families with three or more children. It appears unlikely that the Secretary of State will face another Work and Pensions Question Time, so will she make it her legacy to scrap the two-child cap and avoid impoverishing half of all children in those families?

I will try not to be distracted by the hon. Gentleman’s slightly personal remarks. He might know that I visited Scotland last week, and the Scottish Government have taken their own steps on what they feel is the way to address child poverty. Those of us on the Government side of the House feel that the best way to address child poverty is to help more people into work. I am proud of the fact that there are now 1 million more people in work and that over 600,000 children are no longer in houses where no people work.

I note that the Secretary of State did not answer my question. I would like to compare and contrast, because CPAG has said of the two-child cap,

“you could not design a policy better to increase child poverty”,

but last week it described the new Scottish child benefit, to which the Secretary of State referred, as

“an absolute game changer in the fight to end child poverty”.

Therefore, on the 20th anniversary of the reconvened Scottish Parliament, is this not yet another example of where Holyrood empowers, Westminster impoverishes?

Again, I point to the fact that there are different ways of addressing poverty, both child poverty and family poverty: one is to hand out money, which is what the Scottish Government have chosen to do; and another is to focus, with laser-like attention, on ensuring that we build the economy and create employment and that there are good jobs so that people can support their family.