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Universal Credit: Disabled People

Volume 635: debated on Monday 5 February 2018

8. What assessment she has made of the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on the number of disabled people living in poverty. (903738)

I do not want to see anyone living in poverty, and no Conservative Member of Parliament wants people living in poverty. Disabled people are some of the biggest beneficiaries of universal credit, with around 1 million disabled households having on average around £110 a month more on universal credit than they would have had on the legacy benefits.

As disability charity Leonard Cheshire has pointed out, many disabled people do not have internet access, assistive technology or the necessary support to fill in the online form to apply for universal credit. Does the Minister agree that the application process needs to be more accessible, so that disabled people can easily apply for these benefits?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point about accessibility of the benefits system for everyone, which is something we all take very seriously. I am grateful for the support that the Leonard Cheshire foundation and a whole range of stakeholders give us in designing the process, to make sure that it is as accessible as possible.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that we are absolutely scrupulous in our presentation of the facts about universal credit? As the Secretary of State referred to earlier, I wrote to the UK Statistics Authority to query the shadow Secretary of State’s claim that

“40,000 children will wake up in poverty on Christmas Day because the Tories refuse to pause”

the roll-out of universal credit. On Friday, Sir David Norgrove told me:

“It is clearly important that statements by a political party should be fully supported by the statistics and sources on which they rely. We do not believe”—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. He has got the thrust of his question across, and the House doubtless will be grateful to him, but this is not a debate; it is Question Time about the policies—

No, no, the hon. Gentleman has finished for today on this. This is about the policies of the Government. The Secretary of State has made the point about the Statistics Authority, which I allowed her to make, perfectly properly, but it is not now the occasion for dilation on the attitude of the Opposition. This is questions to Ministers about the policies of the Government. That is the situation. Minister, very briefly—please, do not dilate on that matter, because it is out of order.

It is very important that anybody who stands up in this Parliament takes their responsibilities towards the truth extremely seriously.

Some specialist employment services for people with disabilities such as drug, alcohol or mental health problems—for example, Agoriad in my constituency—are subcontracted to these small local agencies, but minus a management fee and with unsatisfactory remote control. Would not direct contact with these small local agencies provide more resources where they are needed, as well as better value for money and more people in work?

The hon. Gentleman raises the important issue of specialist providers of employment. This is a very important sector, which the Government have a proud tradition of supporting. I meet stakeholders regularly, and we are always looking to see what more we can do to help them sustainably provide the invaluable employment opportunities that they do.

Despite the Government’s claim that no severely disabled person moved on to universal credit would be worse off, we now know that that is not the case: scrapping the disability premiums will have just that effect. Transitional protection for existing claimants can easily be lost where there is a change in circumstance, such as if someone moves into work and if that job does not last. What assessment has the Minister carried out of the impact of abolishing these disability premiums on disabled people, and does she agree that transitional protection should be retained, so that it is not lost where there is a change in circumstance?

Unlike the previous system, universal credit is more targeted, and support is focused on those who need it most. Transitional protection is available for people who move into universal credit from other benefits, provided their circumstances stay the same. When giving evidence to the Select Committee last week, my hon. Friend the Minister for Employment said that he was aware of the situation, and he is thinking carefully about this issue.