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Universal Credit Roll-out

Volume 670: debated on Monday 27 January 2020

A record 32.9 million people are in work in this country, up by over 3.8 million since 2010. Universal credit has successfully rolled out and is now available in every jobcentre, with a caseload of 2.8 million claimants. We continue to build evidence on the experiences of claimants through our ongoing programme of research and evaluation. The next phase of delivery is to learn how to safely move people across from legacy benefits, which we are doing through our “Move to UC” pilot.

I have some extra information for the Minister’s research and evaluation. A problem regularly raised in my constituency surgeries is that claimants who receive two payslips in one month find themselves in real difficulty the following month. That is happening far too often for it to be loaded on individuals. Can something be done to alleviate these difficulties?

The hon. Gentleman characteristically asks a very good question. Universal credit is based on real-terms earnings information, so it is a complex problem. We are subject to litigation on this matter, so I cannot go into too much detail, but I would be happy to meet him at a later point to discuss this issue further. I am keen to find a solution.

The Government pushed through regulations on the managed migration of universal credit pilot only days before the summer recess without giving Members of this House a vote, as promised. In October, the Secretary of State said she was “surprised” by the small number of people who transferred in the pilot. How many claims have now been processed, and how can a pilot of up to 10,000 households possibly give a realistic picture of how transferring more than 2 million people could work?

Universal credit provides a safety net but, importantly, does not trap people in welfare. The hon. Lady is right that we are running a pilot in Harrogate. The numbers are relatively small at the moment: just under 80, with around 13 having moved on to universal credit. [Interruption.] I can see that she is shocked, but it has been rather deliberate. My clear instruction to officials was to take this slow and steady, and to go at the pace the claimant requires. I want us to ensure that we have the information necessary to roll out universal credit without leaving anybody behind. We have to get it right.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) raises an important point. This often occurs at Christmas, when helpful employers want to pay their staff early so they can afford to pay for all the things they need. Can the Minister assure me that the system will be fixed by next Christmas at the latest?

As much as I would love to give my right hon. Friend that assurance, I cannot do so, but I assure him that I am working on it. Universal credit is based on real-time earnings data, so it is a tricky issue. No one loses out over the course of a year—that is an important point—but I understand that it causes budgeting issues for claimants.

I thank the Secretary of State for recently visiting staff at the jobcentre in Holyhead on Ynys Môn. Can the Minister please confirm that universal credit will be more generous than the system it replaces?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and I welcome her to her place. Compared with the system it replaces, universal credit will, in total, give claimants an extra £2.1 billion a year once fully rolled out. Around 1 million disabled households will receive, on average, around £100 more per month, and 700,000 families will get the extra money to which they are entitled. In short, the answer is yes.