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Universal Credit

Volume 673: debated on Monday 9 March 2020

2. What steps she is taking to provide support for people who require additional help transitioning to universal credit. (901382)

6. What steps she is taking to provide support for people who require additional help transitioning to universal credit. (901386)

18. What steps she is taking to provide support for people who require additional help transitioning to universal credit. (901398)

The Department is working with a range of organisations to support claimants who are transitioning to universal credit. Help to Claim, which is being delivered by Citizens Advice, is working effectively for claimants, and we are in the concluding stages of detailed discussions for a second year of delivery.

On a recent visit to my local jobcentre, it was clear that we have excellent staff and that they support universal credit. Will the Minister outline what plans are in place for outreach services for those who might be intimidated by a visit to the jobcentre or, indeed, who want to access support online?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for visiting his local jobcentre. All jobcentres have wi-fi and computers available for claimants to access the internet. For those who are still unable to access or use digital services, or who are not able to travel, assistance to make and maintain their claim is available via the freephone UC helpline. As I mentioned, Help to Claim offers tailored practical support to help people make a UC claim.

As universal credit is rolled out, I welcome the use of new technology to help applicants, particularly in Hyndburn. What support is available to make sure applicants make the best use of the new systems?

Universal credit has been designed to be as quick and easy as possible for the user, ensuring claimants receive money at the earliest available opportunity. It is designed to be a digital-first service, ensuring we make the best use of technology to design a modern and effective working-age welfare system. It is important to note that our UC claimant survey found that 98% of claimants have internet access and have claimed online.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Is he aware that in Lincoln we are pleased that the claimant rate is as low as 4.4%, which is a vast improvement on what it was when I was first elected in 2010? Will he outline what other initiatives his Department is undertaking, as well as the local jobs fairs that Conservative MPs organise in their constituencies, to assist the 2,500 or so claimants in my constituency?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for all the work he does in this area, and I welcome him back to his place. In recent years, the Government have made significant investment to improve work incentives, including the reduction in the UC taper rate from 65% to 63% and an extra £1.7 billion a year put back into UC to increase work allowances for working parents and disabled claimants by £1,000 a year from April 2019. That provides a boost to the incomes of the lowest paid and results in 2.4 million families keeping an extra £630 a year of what they earn.

The Prime Minister said last week that any workers who need to self-isolate because of the coronavirus and who are not eligible for statutory sick pay could claim UC. However, people have to meet a work coach at the start of a claim for UC, there is a five-week wait for the first payment and anyone asking for an advance also has to go to a jobcentre to have their identity verified. So how will people who have to self-isolate be able to claim UC?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As the Prime Minister set out last week, we will introduce, as part of the Department of Health and Social Care’s emergency Bill, provisions for statutory sick pay to be made from day one. Employers have been urged to make sure they use their discretion and respect the medical need to self-isolate in making decisions about sick pay. People not eligible to receive sick pay may be able to claim UC and/or contributory employment and support allowance, and staff at our jobcentres are ready to support people affected and can rebook any assessment or appointment that is necessary.

That just does not answer the question, does it? Will the Minister therefore outline what happens where someone on UC has to self-isolate but has to go through work searches and is unable to attend a jobcentre? Will he expect that person to be sanctioned if she cannot turn up?

The Minister said last month that he of course thought that improvements could be made to UC. I agree, so perhaps he could outline some, starting with ending the two-child cap, ending the five-week wait and fully restoring the work allowances. Have those conversations been had between his Department and the Treasury, ahead of the Budget?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are a Government who listen. Let us look at the improvements that have already been made to UC: increased advances, of up to 100% of a full monthly payment; cutting the taper rate, so people keep more of their salary; increasing the amount someone can earn before their UC is reduced; scrapping the seven-day waiting times; introducing a two-week overlap of housing benefit; and, as of July, we are introducing a two-week overlap of various legacy benefits. There are lots of improvements to be made. They do, of course, require Treasury approval, and I am looking at these in a lot of detail.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Giles Watling), I recently visited one of the jobcentres that serves my constituency—it was in Grimsby and, along with the ones in Immingham and Barton-upon-Humber, it serves Cleethorpes. The staff there do an excellent job and they are very positive about UC. Will he congratulate the staff and do what he can to reassure those who are having problems transitioning to UC that the Government will be working to solve any of the existing problems?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for visiting the jobcentre, and he describes the same feedback that my Front-Bench colleagues and I receive when we visit jobcentres. UC is a modern, flexible, personalised benefit, which reflects the rapidly changing world of work. Conservative Members believe that work should always pay and that we need a welfare system that helps people into work, supports those who need help and is fair to everyone who pays for it. I can certainly thank the staff at that jobcentre for all the work they do.

A major cause of difficulty in transitioning to UC is the five-week delay between applying and being entitled to benefit. The Work and Pensions Committee, at its first meeting last week, chose to make this the subject of its first major inquiry, and I am grateful to the Minister for the conversation we have already had about this. Will he confirm that the Department will do all it can to assist the Select Committee in its inquiry?

I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his question. I start from the premise that we do not believe anybody has to wait five weeks for a payment under universal credit. Advance payments are available at the beginning of a UC claim and budgeting support is available for anybody who needs extra help. We have the two-week roll-on of housing benefit, and as of July this year we will also have the two-week roll-on of other legacy benefits. I will of course look carefully at the findings of the report by the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee.