With permission, Mr Speaker, following the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Budget speech yesterday, I shall make a statement on universal credit.
Universal credit represents the biggest modernisation of the welfare state in a generation. It supports those who can work and cares for those who cannot. Under universal credit, people are moving into work faster and staying in work longer than under the previous system. Once it is fully rolled out it will boost employment by about 250,000, which is equivalent to about 400 extra jobs for every constituency. It was introduced to replace the complex and failed benefit system run by the last Government, which created cliff edges, discouraging people from working more than 16 hours a week and trapping 1.5 million on out-of-work benefits for nearly a decade. Members on both sides of the House have voiced their support for the principles underpinning universal credit. It is a modern welfare system which—through one simple monthly payment—ensures that work always pays, mirrors the world of work, and helps people to earn their way out of financial insecurity and welfare dependency.
As we introduce universal credit, we are constantly improving the way in which the system works. We recently introduced changes to ensure that everyone who needs advance payments has access to them, and we are making our telephone lines Freephone numbers. I have consistently made it clear that we will continue to introduce universal credit gradually. Of the total number of households that will eventually move on to it, 9% are currently receiving it, and the number will increase to 12% by February. That will enable us to make improvements over time.
Colleagues have had concerns about the waiting time for the first payment, and I am grateful to my parliamentary colleagues for their constructive engagement on this issue. There have been several debates here and in the other place. This statement responds to them and fulfils the commitment made on behalf of the Government by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in relation to the resolution of the House on 18 October 2017. We are now offering a balanced package of improvements that puts more money into claimants’ hands earlier, ensuring extra support for those who most need it.
Next month, new guidance will be issued to staff to ensure that claimants in the private rented sector who have their housing benefit paid directly to landlords are offered that option when they join universal credit. In January we will make two changes to advances. First, the period over which an advance is recovered will increase from six to 12 months, making it easier for claimants to manage their finances. That will apply regardless of the level of advance claimed. Secondly, we are increasing the amount of support a claimant can receive from up to 50% of their estimated entitlement to up to 100%, interest free. In practice, that means that new claimants in December could already receive an advance of up to 50% of their estimated overall entitlement, and may receive a second advance to take it up to 100% in the new year. Taken with the first payment, that means that claimants in need could receive nearly double the money they would previously have received. In addition, from spring next year we will make it possible to apply for an advance online, further increasing accessibility for those who need it.
From February, we will remove the seven-day waiting period, reducing the length of time claimants might wait to receive their first full payment. From April, for new claimants already receiving support towards their housing costs, we will provide an additional payment of two weeks of their housing benefit to support them as they transition to universal credit, helping to address the issue of rent arrears for those who most need it. That is a well-targeted measure that will support 2.3 million people, including the most vulnerable, with an unrecoverable automatic payment worth an average of £233 each. This is a one-off investment of £550 million to ensure that universal credit supports those who need it.
In April, as a short-term measure, we will change how claimants in temporary accommodation receive support for their housing costs to ensure that local authorities can recover more of their costs and can therefore continue to offer this valuable support to those who need it most. We will also consider longer-term solutions.
The majority of claimants are comfortable managing their finances. However, personal budgeting support and digital skills training are provided to claimants through universal support, delivered through local authorities. Building on this, we are exploring with Citizens Advice the scope for greater collaborative working to help claimants locally as they move to universal credit.
We must remember that universal credit is aimed at supporting those out of work to move into work, and, once in work, to progress and increase their earnings. That is why, in addition to these measures, the Government have allocated £8 million over four years to conduct a number of tests and trials to support development of the evidence about what works to help people progress in work. This is a comprehensive and wide-ranging package worth £1.5 billion, offering significantly more support than a simple reduction in the wait for the first payment to one month.
To deliver this package, we have carefully revised the UC roll-out plan to ensure that we continue to safely and gradually roll out this important welfare reform. I will place the updated roll-out plan in the House of Commons Library. This does not change the final point at which the roll-out of universal credit will be completed.
To help to ensure a smooth transition to full service, we have also decided to close new claims to our prototype universal credit live service. That will not affect any existing claims. In addition, currently any new UC claim from a family with three or more children will be routed back to tax credits until November 2018. With the extension to the roll-out plan that will now shift to the end of January 2019.
This is a comprehensive package that responds to concerns raised inside and outside the House. We have a clear objective: to ensure that as many people as possible get the opportunity to work, and to maximise their potential to better their circumstances. We will continue to roll out universal credit in a steady and considered manner, and in doing so deliver a welfare reform that will positively transform lives. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me early sight of his statement. There was little surprise when the Government announced reforms to their embattled universal credit programme in the Budget yesterday following months of Labour campaigning, a unanimous defeat on the Opposition-day motion and discontent across the whole House about the rising debt, arrears and even evictions that the social security reforms are causing to so many constituents. We of course welcome any steps to improve the programme, not least the small reduction in the so-called long hello, meaning that those on the lowest incomes will now only be expected to wait five weeks for support to arrive, compared with six under the current design.
Before I address the detail of today’s announcement, let us step back and look at the big picture. The Government introduced universal credit with three promises: to reduce child poverty by 350,000; to simplify the social security system; and to ensure that work always pays. As the mounting evidence has shown, universal credit is not living up to those ambitions. Now it is our task see whether the Chancellor’s announcements meet the Government’s own tests. First, the most immediate matter: the reforms announced today will not be introduced until next year and will do nothing for the tens of thousands who are stuck in the six-week waiting period over Christmas. Anyone who has tried to claim universal credit since Tuesday 14 November will not get their first payment until after Christmas day. That will mean tens of thousands of families going without over the festive period.
Secondly, we are concerned that the Government have decided to remove only a single week from the waiting period, taking it down to five weeks. Under existing Department for Work and Pensions guidance on alternative payment arrangements, claimants should be offered the option of being paid every two weeks, reflecting their previous employment patterns. A report published by the Resolution Foundation has found that 58% of those moving on to UC from work were paid more regularly than monthly. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether there is capacity in the system to offer claimants more regular payments if the Government do not change the payment period to fortnightly as opposed to monthly?
There is no change to the monthly assessment period that is particularly affecting the self-employed, and I want to press the Secretary of State on why that is the case when the current arrangements are clearly so punitive. In relation to the advance payment, we have concerns over the details of the extended repayment period. What additional debt does the Secretary of State expect the average claimant to incur? What does his Department predict will be the average monthly repayment amount deducted from a claimant’s income? Our position remains the same: the social security system should prevent people from getting into debt, rather than making matters worse. It is contrary to the ambitions of universal credit that instead of alleviating poverty, it is going to cause it. It is also an insult to ask people who are unable to make ends meet under the Government’s punitive reforms to bear even more risk, stress and concern.
The Government’s housing benefit proposals are not due to be introduced until April next year, nearly six months after the Budget. Support for rent will be available for the first two weeks of the five-week period before claimants receive their first payment. That will leave a three-week gap, which is still too long for many people to cope with. It will lead to arrears and even evictions, as we have said already seen from the programme.
Finally, this announcement did nothing to restore the key ambition that work will always pay. The swingeing cuts to UC have not been addressed, condemning more disabled people, children and their families to poverty. Taken together, these announcements equate to putting in £1 for every £10 that the former Chancellor cut. In a further nonsensical approach, he has downgraded planned increases to the national living wage, leaving a full-time worker on the minimum wage £900 a year worse off by 2020. Why have the Government failed to give our workers the pay rise they deserve? The Government seem content to leave us with 17 years of pay stagnation.
In summary, these measures for UC are not enough. They must be brought forward, amended and added to. We stand ready to work with the Government to make the necessary changes. Failing that, they should stand aside and let a Labour Government get on with the job.
Where to start? Let me begin with the point about people having to wait five weeks. People do not have to wait five weeks; they can get a payment within five days. As for the dismissal of an interest-free advance as immaterial, that is just completely unreasonable and wrong. An advance enables people to have control over when they receive their payments. We are making it more generous and giving people a longer period over which to repay it, but we are also making it more flexible by enabling people to get a larger advance if that is what they want and need.
The hon. Lady suggests that we should move towards paying fortnightly, saying that the system should reflect how people’s previous employment packages worked, but only 3% of people in employment are paid fortnightly. If we are to have a system that has the flexibility to cope with people who are out of work moving into work, a monthly approach is absolutely sensible, but we need flexibility in the first assessment period, so that people can get access to money earlier. That is exactly what we are delivering.
The approach of the Opposition Front-Bench team is not one of constructive engagement. They are a roadblock to welfare reform. They have sought to stand in the way of delivering universal credit—[Interruption.] They have just asked for a pause. I am unsure whether we heard a request for a pause from the hon. Lady today, but I would be fascinated to know what they mean by a pause. Do they mean not rolling universal credit out to any new jobcentres, or do they mean stopping any new claimants going on to universal credit at all? I am not quite sure which it is.
Does the hon. Lady mean stopping the roll-out for new jobcentres or for everybody? We are not getting an answer. If it means stopping universal credit across the board, that would show a woeful lack of grasp of the operational realities. The idea that we could suddenly switch everybody back on to jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance is ridiculous, and the idea that we could do that overnight betrays a lack of understanding of how the system works.
We listened to the constructive comments of Members on both sides of the House and made some sensible reforms to help people, but let us not forget that this is a welfare reform that will positively transform lives. I am proud that this Government are delivering it. I think the Labour party might reflect on the fact that it is seen as a roadblock to this welcome reform.
Order. First, I say with crystal clarity to the House that Members who arrived after the statement began should not be standing and will not be called, which is in conformity with long-established practice in this House. I have often said it; I do not know why it is so difficult for some people to grasp, but that is the reality of the matter.
Secondly, there is heavy business to follow, with a large number of colleagues wishing to participate in the continuation of the Budget debate, so I implore colleagues to be pithy in their questions. I know that the Secretary of State will be correspondingly succinct by way of reply. I am keen to move on at as close as possible to 12.30 pm.
In support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, may I say that the whole roll-out of universal credit was set up deliberately to allow the Government to respond to any problems and make the necessary changes? I will not rehearse my views about some of the previous Budget discussions, but I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having secured from the Chancellor what is nearly £1.5 billion to help the roll-out process, particularly the transferring of people who are on housing benefit and, of course, the waiting days, which will help enormously by giving flexibility to advisers.
Universal credit is not just about getting people into work. It was deliberately designed to find the people who have the greatest problems and, alongside universal support, to help change their lives. I urge my right hon. Friend to look carefully at universal support to ensure that it is rolling out alongside universal credit to make the roll-out a success. I give my congratulations again to a very good Secretary of State.
First, I thank my right hon. Friend for his kind words and once again acknowledge the tremendous work he did in driving universal credit forward. Its delivery will be a truly great achievement for the Government. On universal support, he is absolutely right. I will give one brief illustration, if I may, Mr Speaker. I recently visited a jobcentre where someone had got in contact and, because of the IT support they received in making a universal credit claim, they were much more confident and competent and had just made their first grocery order online. That might seem a small matter to some of us, but it was helping someone make progress in life, and that is what universal credit and universal support are delivering.
Order. I have no desire to be unkind—far be it from me to be so—but the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) was late. He beetled into the Chamber after the statement had started. I said that if Members were late they should not stand and would not be called. It is, in those circumstances, frankly rather discourteous to persist in standing. Please, in your own interests and out of respect to the House, do not do it.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I suppose we should be grateful that, in making these changes, the Chancellor and the DWP have accepted that universal credit is failing, but this was not the robust and comprehensive response it should have been. Universal credit should be halted and fixed. The response does nothing to address the structural failings, the delays and errors, the arrears by default, the evictions and the misery they are causing. The reduction in the six-week wait is welcome, but five weeks is still too long—and let us not forget that many people wait far longer than that.
I was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s earlier answer. The Scottish Government are allowing people to receive payments fortnightly, taking account of and showing respect for working people on universal credit and those on zero-hours contacts paid weekly or fortnightly. Will the Government reconsider the freeze on benefits? As the Resolution Foundation has pointed out, work does not pay for people on universal credit, because, with the consumer prices index so high, working claimants lose money, which creates disincentives. Will he also look into the number of DWP cancelled personal independence payment assessments? Finally, at no cost to the Treasury, will the Government reinstate the third-party consent and legacy benefits removed by universal credit for people in difficulty, especially the disabled, cancer patients and the terminally ill?
On the last point, people can get explicit consent—they just need to get the consent. On the delays and moving to fortnightly payments, I am aware that the Scottish Government have taken a different approach, but they are doing so by ensuring that the second payment, at the end of the second assessment period, is half what it would be in England and Wales, deferring it and then paying it a fortnight later. If the Scottish Government are happy with that and want to defend it to the Scottish people, they are welcome to do so, but it seems a strange way to deliver the benefit. On the public finances, we fought the 2015 general election with a commitment to find savings in the welfare budget, and we will deliver those savings.
I am sure that there will be an ongoing debate about the taper, which, as we made clear yesterday, we will continue to keep under review, but we acknowledge that there is a particular issue with the first assessment period and helping people over that period, which is why we made changes to the advances system back in October. I said at the time that we would continue to look at this, and that is why we have announced the package we have.
Will the Secretary of State please commit now to bringing forward the loans scheme and keeping open the jobcentres and helplines due to be closed for eight out of 10 days over Christmas, to prevent any of my constituents from going hungry? May I also congratulate him on applying the financial armlock he learned in the Treasury to his then boss to such good effect?
The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) raises a serious point about Christmas, and it is worth bearing in mind that people who open a new claim in, for example, mid-December can get a 50% advance, knowing that they can come back and get the other 50% in the new year. DWP will continue to operate as usual over Christmas, and a lot of effort is put into ensuring that the payment system works over the Christmas period.
I thank the Secretary of State for listening to colleagues on both sides of the House in this welcome package of changes to universal credit, and particularly for scrapping the seven waiting days, for improving the loans and advances that are available and for the changes to housing benefit. Will he join me in thanking Citizens Advice? Citizens Advice does so much to support all our constituents, and it too welcomes the changes.
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to Citizens Advice, with which we have strongly engaged. Indeed, I spoke to its chief executive yesterday, and I have a meeting with her—the chief executive—later today. We will continue to work closely with Citizens Advice, and I am keen to ensure that, when it comes to universal support, we continue to work closely with Citizens Advice because it provides people with a huge amount of practical support and help.
The Secretary of State’s characterisation of the tax credits system is wrong, but I welcome the helpful steps he announced today to start clearing up the problems he inherited. Will he make available large-print versions of the documentation about these changes? Does he accept that, if someone who is paid weekly and has no savings loses their job, denying them any income at all for five weeks will cause a serious problem that offering a loan does not resolve?
The flexibility of the advance system means that nobody is left without any financial support at all. Compared with the legacy systems, such as JSA, universal credit will provide more support to people earlier. I will consider a large-print version of the documentation and, perhaps on another occasion, I would happily debate the tax credits system with him at some length—not only the disincentives within the system but the huge difficulties that its roll-out caused back in 2003, which were still reverberating when I entered the House in 2005.
I welcome the statement, in which the Secretary of State said that there will be extra support for tenants in the private rented sector. Will he expand on that? Will it include private landlords having access to the portal available to social landlords?
We have to remember that, since the reforms in 2008, most tenants in the private rented sector receive their housing benefit directly, rather than the benefit going to landlords, but about 30% of tenants have alternative payment arrangements in which the money goes directly to the landlord. Once we change the guidance, the presumption will be that such alternative payment arrangements will continue and that the money will therefore go to the landlord, rather than to the tenant. We are constantly considering ways in which we can ensure there is support, and let us not forget that housing benefit transitional payments will provide two weeks of support—the payments are not recovered, they are additional support—to help people as they migrate on to universal credit.
The changes and additional resources to help tackle some of the glaring problems emerging in universal credit are welcome, but social landlords and others are still extremely worried about the impact of potential arrears. Will the Secretary of State work with his colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ask social landlords to ensure that they do not go for “ground 8” possession, which reduces the flexibility of the courts in dealing with arrears? It is critical that we do all we can to prevent the eviction of tenants who fall into arrears.
I welcome the hon. Lady’s warm words, and I note the constructive approach taken by a number of Labour Back Benchers. On evictions, it is important that the pre-action protocols are respected. The Leader of the Opposition’s comments on what happened with Gloucester City Homes turned out to be wildly inaccurate, for which he should apologise. We are keen to work constructively with landlords in both the social sector and the private sector, and it is important that we debate this in a reasonable way, without causing unnecessary stress by scaremongering, which the Leader of the Opposition did.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. Successful completion of the roll-out requires ongoing dialogue with a variety of organisations, including Jobcentre Plus offices, local housing authorities, charities, food banks and local landlords. Can he provide an assurance that he will continue to liaise and work with such bodies?
I can give that assurance. A pleasing aspect of the response to the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is the warm and broad support for the changes from, for example, the Trussell Trust, Citizens Advice, landlords associations and so on. Engaging closely with all those organisations and partners is key to delivering universal credit successfully.
The most significant part of the statement is that we must remember universal credit is aimed at supporting people who are out of work to move into work. That makes perfect sense if universal credit was just replacing JSA, but, of course, many people going on to universal credit are nowhere near work and are very seriously disabled. Those people seem to be entirely missing from the statement and from the steps the Chancellor announced yesterday. Will the Secretary of State at least acknowledge that universal credit is failing the most disabled and tell us what he plans to do to address the concerns raised by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) about the most seriously disabled people, who are being failed by universal credit?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of either universal credit or what I actually said. I make it clear that universal credit provides support for those who need it. On the severe disability premium, which he raised yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions, it is worth bearing in mind there is no reduction in the overall amount of support. When universal credit was introduced, it was designed to widen the support that is provided. Universal credit is about providing support to everyone, and getting people closer to work and into work, where possible, is absolutely the right thing to do.
As a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I warmly welcome the £1.5 billion and the loss of the seven-day waiting time announced yesterday. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, as the roll-out of universal credit continues, test and learn will continue to be an essential part of the process?
Absolutely. I make it clear that we must constantly consider ways in which we can refine and improve the system. I have set out a number of things we will be doing over the months ahead to make the system work as well as it possibly can. As of today, universal credit is already better than the legacy system.
Small housing associations in Glasgow tell me that they do not know whether a person is on universal credit until they fall into arrears. I press the Secretary of State to ensure that all housing associations, no matter their size, have access to the landlord portal, to eliminate rent arrears and to make sure that housing associations do not fall into financial difficulty.
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point. The landlord portal is a good step forward. We are starting with the largest landlords because that is the quickest way to ensure as many people as possible benefit, but the increased use of the landlord portal as it is rolled out will be helpful for housing associations and councils, as well as for the DWP.
On a recent visit to Eastleigh jobcentre, I found that staff were hugely positive about universal credit, as IT skills and computer access for their claimants was vital. Will my right hon. Friend join me in thanking jobcentre staff across the UK for remaining positive about the benefits of this, particularly for those stuck on the 16-hours contracts?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I have similar experience of visiting jobcentres and being struck by the enthusiasm of the staff for UC. I urge Members from all parts of the House to visit their local jobcentre and talk to the staff there. The work coaches and jobcentre staff generally are doing excellent work, transforming lives, and they believe overwhelmingly that UC is giving them the tools to help people to transform their lives. That is what this reform is all about, and it is why I am so determined to deliver it and why I am so pleased we have united support for it today on our side of the House.
Given the Government’s assumptions on minimum incomes—the so-called floor, which penalises self-employed people on low incomes—will the Secretary of State review these rules, as they are putting people such as my constituent Tracy out of business and into debt?
The minimum income floor is an important part of our system. If we do not have it, we can leave the system in a place where we are simply not able to help people in self-employed jobs that are not giving them sufficient income to have the living standards they want. We have to provide support to those people, so that they have a sustainable job that provides sufficient income to them and does not provide an unfair burden on the taxpayer.
We will have that guidance out in December, so we will be moving quickly on that. This is designed for those who have previously been on housing benefit with an alternative payment arrangement. Of course where work coaches, as they engage with new claimants, identify that the right approach is for an alternative payment arrangement to exist—in other words, the money goes to the landlord—they can take that forward.
I very much welcome the announcement about the housing benefit run-on, and I was even more pleased to hear the Secretary of State say it would not be an advance but an award. Can he say why it will not be available to those who have not previously been in receipt of housing benefit? As he will know, rent arrears have been one of the features of UC that has caused the most difficulty and high levels of debt.
As the Secretary of State will know, the UC full service is due to be rolled out to Torbay in May 2018. What efforts will he be making to ensure that staff are fully trained on these changes and, in particular, that people are aware of the advances available? People may not be quite so confident in doing this when they first put in a claim.
On the advances, we changed the guidance in October. It was already the case in July and August that about half the people were taking up an advance. From my visits to jobcentres, I can say that this system has improved. Of course, with the increased flexibility on advances, it may well prove to be even more widely used—we shall see. My hon. Friend raises a good point about training. I have visited jobcentres that have just launched the full service, and I am impressed by the level of training and by the support that a jobcentre that has had this for a while then provides to a new jobcentre. That degree of co-operation is proving to be very effective.
The Secretary of State is putting up £8 million to develop evidence about what works to help people progress in work. I have done the job already, for nothing: he needs to restore the £3 billion-worth per annum of work allowances that he cancelled from 2015 onwards. To help to reflate the economy, he could start lifting the benefits freeze. Will he do that?
If that is an attempt by the Liberal Democrats to find an economy saving, I am not sure the right hon. Gentleman has managed it. I understand the case he is making. Obviously, we have to balance what is affordable within the public finances. I make the point that we may find some savings in terms of fraud and error in the UC system, but this is not an overall reduction on what we were previously spending on the legacy benefits.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he update the House on exactly how many people in receipt of UC have gone on into work as a direct result of going on to this new system? Obviously, that is the intention and we should be singing it from the rooftops.
Three studies have compared this system with the legacy benefits and all three showed that a higher proportion of people have gone into work and progressed there than did so under the legacy benefits. There is greater flexibility in the system, so that people are not stuck on doing 16 hours, as is undoubtedly the case at the moment. The analysis we have done, which has been peer reviewed, suggests that there will be about 250,000 more jobs in the economy than would have been the case had we not made that reform. That works out at about 400 people per constituency, and I am proud of that.
I saw that report on “Money Box”. It was confused and misleading in its alarmist tone. It was inaccurate in the numbers it was using. The principle of UC is that if someone earns more, they get less UC, whereas if they earn less, they get more UC. That is the principle that applies and it should not be shocking to anybody.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, and I thank him and the Minister for Employment for their hard work and for this additional support to the most vulnerable in society. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the housing benefit payments will not be repayable and that that again will help the most vulnerable as they make the transition on to UC?
I acknowledge much in this statement. On citizens advice bureaux and local authorities and the indication of greater collaboration, I wonder whether the Secretary of State will confirm two things. The first is that additional funds will be available to the third party sector to help with this collaboration and advice. Secondly, has he looked at having implied consent, which would cut a huge amount of waiting time in respect of advice given?
There are confidentiality issues that we have to deal with. I am not going to get drawn on the funding today, but I will say that we do fund universal support, providing the support that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green was talking about, which is helping to transform lives.
I chair the board of a housing association that has 20,000 homes, operating across 18 local authorities. I do not want those residents unnecessarily disturbed by the scare- mongering from Opposition Members. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that those claimants can get an emergency payment of up to 100% of their monthly entitlement within only a few days?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we will have that 100% advances system available in the new year. Let me come back to a point I made. The Leader of the Opposition said that one in eight people in Gloucester City Council had been evicted because of UC—that would be 650 people. It turned out that it was not one in eight—it was eight. And it turned out that it was not because of UC; it was because of other problems that had arisen, including in one case someone who had not lived in the property for 18 months.
Until recently, my local authority, Denbighshire, had the highest levels of household debt in the whole country. People were forced into the arms of loan sharks, pawn shops and payday-loan usury. Will the Government’s decision to encourage universal credit recipients to apply for and accept Government loans increase or decrease household debt in Denbighshire?
If we want to stop people falling prey to loan sharks, the flexibility of advances in the system, with the addition of budgeting loans to help people with white goods, is exactly the right way to go about it. If we do not offer that, the risks that the hon. Gentleman set out would be real.
The Government say they are allocating £8 million over four years to conduct trials and get evidence of what works. What trials will be put in place specifically for disabled people—other than the trial of universal credit itself, of course? Will the Secretary of State meet the all-party group on disability, which I chair, to listen to disabled people’s voice on what works?
We do engage and listen to the voices of disabled people; indeed, our announcements yesterday were strongly welcomed by some disabled groups. On the test and learn approach, we obviously only made the announcement yesterday, so we are designing the trials. The purpose is to ensure that people can progress in work.
The Secretary of State claims that universal credit is constantly improving and that he is responding to concerns. Will he respond to my concerns and those of the Child Poverty Action Group and others, that the Government are knowingly putting 200,000 children into poverty as a result of the two-child cap, that they know the two-child cap is having a disproportionate impact on religious minorities and that their vile rape clause is stigmatising women in Northern Ireland and putting them in danger?
The Secretary of State might be interested to know that Citizens Advice Scotland recently carried out a survey in my constituency and determined that 32% of my constituents do not have any access to the internet and a further 32% would have difficulty accessing the online full service universal credit system. In the context of half the jobcentres in Glasgow being closed, will he consider additional measures to ensure that the interface for the full service universal credit system is improved, so that those claiming universal credit can have increased confidence that they can access the system efficiently?