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Universal Credit

Volume 635: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2018

3. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on reducing the time taken to make universal credit payments in Wales. (903563)

6. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on reducing the time taken to make universal credit payments in Wales. (903566)

Diolch yn fawr, Mr Llefarydd. Rwy’n ddiolchgar i’m cydweithwyr am y croeso cynnes.

At the Budget, the Chancellor announced that all claimants will be eligible for universal credit from the first day that they claim it, removing the seven waiting days.

Och aye the noo!

The Opposition welcomed the U-turn by the Chancellor, increasing the waiting time for universal credit from six weeks to five weeks, but this does not go far enough. Household claimants in Wales and across the country are still suffering from rising debts, housing arrears and evictions. Will the Minister stand up for universal credit claimants in Wales by asking his Cabinet colleagues to reduce the waiting time further?

I loved the hon. Gentleman’s introduction.

The need for reform was absolutely clear. Under the old system, people had to go to the Department for Work and Pensions, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the local housing authority and, potentially, more organisations. We are now simplifying the process so that we have a system that encourages people into work. Surely, we should all welcome that. We are rolling the scheme out slowly to ensure that we are learning lessons, and that is exactly what we have done. The Chancellor made the announcement in the Budget so that we improve the system to ensure that people have the money they need when they apply.

The DWP’s own analysis shows that half those with rent arrears under universal credit said that they had gone into arrears after making a claim. Is the Minister content with the fact that more Welsh families who were not previously in arrears have begun 2018 in debt following their claim for universal credit?

That is exactly why we made the announcements in the Budget. Now, households who already claim housing benefit will automatically receive an additional two weeks of housing benefit when they claim universal credit. We are responding to the lessons that we are learning, and we will continue to do so as we roll out the project.

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. May I urge him, in looking at the administrative changes to universal credit, not to lose sight of the overarching goal, which is to have a simpler welfare system that actually encourages people into work—a far cry from the old system that it is replacing?

I am delighted to take a question from my hon. Friend, and I mean that in the sincerest sense. He is absolutely right. Unemployment in Wales is currently 73,000, which represents a decrease of 52,000 since 2010. People are going back into work because universal credit is encouraging that. Under the old system, people who worked a minute over 16 hours would lose their whole jobseeker’s allowance. There was no incentive to get into work, which is why we have introduced this new system.

I too offer my congratulations to the Minister on his elevation to his new position—llongyfarchiadau.

Waiting times are important to all claimants, but none more so than the terminally ill—those who the DWP expects to live for less than six months. The DWP’s own data shows that personal independence payment claimants who are terminally ill have their claims reassessed at the rate of seven in 100 in the south-east and 17 in 100 in Wales, which is the highest rate in the country. Why is there such a huge variance, and will the Minister join me in requesting a meeting with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss these issues?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the warm welcome, which I much appreciate. It is important to recognise that, with PIP, we are bringing in a system to try to help people live with the conditions they have. If we compare the systems, 29% of PIP claimants are receiving the highest possible support, compared with just 15% for disability living allowance. I have only been in this job a few weeks, but I will be taking this up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and will report back.

We need to speed up a bit, because we have a lot of questions to get through. What we need now is pithy questions without excessively demonstrative behaviour.