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Universal Credit System Resilience: Covid-19

Volume 703: debated on Monday 8 November 2021

5. What assessment she has made of the resilience of the universal credit system during the covid-19 outbreak. (904056)

The universal credit system stood up to the challenge of the pandemic, which meant that people received vital financial support at their time of need. On one day alone we received just over 100,000 new claims, 10 times the average. The old system would not have coped with the unprecedented pressure that we have seen over the past 18 months, and that is yet another reason why universal credit is working.

During the pandemic, the universal credit system proved not only its resilience but its agility in providing people with the emergency support that they needed. Now that the Government are rightly focusing on getting people back into work, could my right hon. Friend set out the timetable for the very welcome changes that she has made to the universal credit taper rate and to work allowances?

I was not the only person to cheer loudly when the Chancellor announced to the House that we were increasing work allowances and reducing the taper rate to 55% no later than 1 December. I am pleased to inform my hon. Friend that the latest information I have is that we intend to try to bring that in from 24 November, which means that an extra 500,000 claimants will benefit, even more than might have been predicted just a couple of weeks ago.

The Department for Work and Pensions makes substantial efforts to assure itself that people who are on universal credit and not in work are entitled to that payment, either because of the disabilities that they have or because they have made every possible effort to find work. On that basis, why would the Government reassure themselves that it is okay to plunge those people into poverty, when they have done everything that the Government have asked them to do in terms of trying to find work? Why not just reintroduce that £20 payment?

The £20 uplift was a temporary measure reflecting the nature of what happened in the pandemic, and the greatest financial impact was on those who had gone from having earnings to having no earnings at all. We have doubled the number of work coaches and we are striving to help people to get into work, because we know that that is the best way to get on in life. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the change that happened in the Budget, which shows, perhaps even quicker than initially predicted, that work genuinely pays.

My right hon. Friend is aware that Harrogate has been the location for the pilot work on the managed migration from legacy benefits. Is she able to update the House on how that is going? Before the pandemic, it was going very well indeed. Is she now in a position to recommence the pilot, or to move on to the next stage of the migration?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we undertook some pilot work in Harrogate on the managed migration element of moving everybody to universal credit. I am pleased to say that there was a considerable amount of learnings from that time in Harrogate, and we have also learned a lot during the pandemic. As such, I am not envisaging a need for the pilot to be resumed in Harrogate, but it has informed our plan, which is still in preparation, on resuming the managed move to universal credit.