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Work and Pensions Committee

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 8 February 2018

Select Committee statement

We now come to the second Select Committee statement. The procedure is the same as for the previous statement.

I hope I will also leave the House silenced by my report, and I hope to do so in record speed.

The House passed a motion on 5 December 2017 agreeing that the Select Committee on Work and Pensions should review the five project assessment reviews on universal credit. The Government went beyond that and gave us other papers. All the papers were almost unreadable, and the fact that they are now turned from pigs’ ears into a silk purse owes everything to our Clerk, Adam Mellows-Facer. When Members read the report, they will understand precisely our debt to him.

Mr Speaker, I request your help on two fronts. First, this huge project—huge in Government finance and huge in what it might do to our constituents—is based on no business case at all. I am therefore pleased to see my friend the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen), who is now the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, sitting on the Treasury Bench. I ask through you, Mr Speaker, that he does not approve further development of universal credit until the Treasury has received the business case from his colleague the Minister for Employment, the hon. Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma).

Secondly, the project assessment reviews talk about the industrialisation of claims. This is the roll-out of a benefit that is, to put it at its kindest, hit and miss. The problems that our constituents could face are beyond imagination, and the cost to taxpayers will be enormous. Mr Speaker, at another time, might I seek your help in getting time to allow many more Members of the House of Commons to comment on how universal credit is affecting, or not affecting, their constituents?

I end by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to present the Select Committee’s report to the House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his report. I have appeared before the Work and Pensions Committee in the past few days, and a number of the points raised in the report were raised in that session. I will of course consider the report, and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has indicated that we will work closely together on reviewing its content.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) and the Select Committee as a whole for their excellent work.

Universal credit was designed to smooth the transition into work and to help lift people out of poverty. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, more than seven years after universal credit was first announced, and after repeated resets and delays, it is clear that the Government still cannot provide evidence for their key claim that people claiming universal credit will be more likely to find employment? I mean not just single unemployed people without children, before cuts to work allowances, who appear in the statistics that the Government cite, but the full range of people—single parents, the self-employed, carers and disabled people—who are now claiming universal credit as the full service is rolled out.

I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because the central part of any business case for universal credit is that there will be a movement from benefits into work. We know the Government have no up-to-date data on that, yet they are pressing ahead. That is why I asked the Economic Secretary to the Treasury not to sanction further cash for this programme until the Department for Work and Pensions has produced a business case.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, for his work on this report. Given the key economic assumption underlying universal credit—the claim that it will deliver much improved employment outcomes for the vast range of people who claim it—and given that a full business case for the biggest reform of the welfare state in 50 years has not been made, does he share my concern that claimants have been pushed into dire financial straits because universal credit is simply not fit for purpose? We know the Government say that they are confident about the progress of universal credit, but does he agree that there needs to be more openness about this internal review?

There needs to be some internal sharing of information with the Treasury, if the Department has it, and the Treasury should put a stop to any expansion until it gets the business case. I underscore what the hon. Lady says: our constituents will be on the rough end of this if it all goes wrong.

To use your terminology, Mr Speaker, a pithy question: does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the process so far is IT-focused, not person-focused, and that that is the problem?