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Topical Questions

Volume 644: debated on Monday 2 July 2018

Those who take an interest in disability issues will know about our Disability Confident scheme, which supports businesses to employ disabled people. We have launched the Disability Confident 100-day community challenge to get people across this House involved in supporting people in their local area. To date, in 24 hours, 23 MPs have become involved. I hope that the whole House will help disabled people in their area to get into work.

This is complicated, Mr Speaker, so stay with me. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure continuity of universal credit benefit entitlement for those people paid on the same day every month for whom, every now and again, two pay packets will fall into the assessment period?

I think that it is all perfectly clear, as the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) knows.

My right hon. Friend is in the Chamber much of the time, so he might have heard me talk about this complicated issue quite a bit. It is about not just the last day of every month, but people who might have differing pay packets—they might be paid weekly, fortnightly or four-weekly rather than monthly. A recipient might not get their UC in a month because they have two pay packets falling within that month. What we can do straightaway is this: the person has their entitlement to benefits, and they will then sign on again the month after and remain in UC. We are providing guidance and support for both claimants and employees so that people stay on a cushion of benefit, but the system reflects their fluctuating wage.

T2. If the Secretary of State wants people to have confidence in her Department, what is she doing about Motability? Is it true that its chief executive is on £1.7 million and that it has reserves of £2.4 billion? Many people who are struggling support Motability, but they want to know what is going on. (906180)

Again, the hon. Gentleman raises a good point. As he will be aware, I am working with Opposition Members and with the Work and Pensions Committee to make sure that money from Motability—the charity or its operations—is being spent correctly and, most importantly, on disabled people. A report is being produced at this very minute.

T6. I put on record my thanks to Department for Work and Pensions staff in Crawley for the roll-out of universal credit, which has gone so well over the past month. There is just one case in which there has been a difficulty, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for her commitment to pursue that. Is not that an example of how MPs working with their local DWP departments can make a positive difference? (906184)

That is exactly what we are doing with the slow roll-out. We are listening to what is needed. Members on both sides of the House supported the policy of universal credit because the old legacy benefits were not working, but we have to get this right and support claimants during the roll-out.

T3. Is the Minister aware of the hardship that parents face under the current regime of child maintenance non-resident parent capital rules? Will he meet me and my constituent, Elizabeth Green, to help to resolve her case, whereby her former partner has not paid a penny in maintenance in over 14 years, yet owns assets worth in excess of £5 million? (906181)

I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituent to discuss that particular issue. He will be aware that earlier this year the Government consulted on changes to the rules about child maintenance, including a power to impute an income from assets of 8.5%, and we hope to publish the conclusions from that consultation shortly.

The last jobs fair that I held in my constituency focused on Disability Confident employers, and it is great to see that more than 5,000 are now signed up nationally. What more can MPs do to encourage more employers to join this fantastic scheme?

I am very grateful for the hard work that my hon. Friend is putting into his constituency. I have great news: the latest figures show that just under 7,000 employers have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. I would really welcome every Member of this House signing up to the 100-day challenge in order to help their many constituents who would really like to work. There is something that everybody can do—[Interruption]—constructively, rather than chuntering from a sedentary position.

T4. Will the Secretary of State inform us whether it is now official DWP policy to scan claimants’ Facebook and other social media pages for evidence of spending patterns such as meals or days out with their family, and to then use that evidence to turn down illness or disability-related benefits? If this is approved DWP policy, will she put the guidance before the House? (906182)

I will be honest: I do not believe that that is our policy; we would not do that. However, I have seen fraud investigations when people have said that they are not working or are unable to work, but unfortunately what they have posted on their Facebook page has very much proven that not to be the case.

The Secretary of State knows that I was not happy with the level of outreach support in Shipley when the jobcentre closed at the beginning of January—we speak of very little else, Mr Speaker. I am delighted that some extra support has now been given, but will my right hon. Friend ensure that a Jobcentre Plus outreach worker is available at a public venue on a regular basis to help claimants in the Shipley constituency?

When my hon. Friend said that “we” speak of little else, I was not sure whether he was talking about me and he, or he and the rest of the people in Shipley. But he is quite right. I am ensuring that one of the key things this Department does is more outreach work. As UC rolls out, it needs to reflect the needs of local people, and outreach is a sure-fire way to do that.

T5. May I just drag the Secretary of State back to the National Audit Office report? It said that the Department should“ensure the programme does not expand before business-as-usual operations can cope with higher claimant volumes.”How does the Secretary of State square that with her comments about speeding up the scheme, rather than stopping it as the NAO recommends? (906183)

The report said that we should carry on with universal credit and that the roll-out should not be slower. The very reference to it not being slower was to ensure that it is sped up. This has been a slow roll-out but, of course, we have to ensure that the roll-out is right, as we have been doing, hence the extra support that we are providing. I repeat the extra number of jobs that we are helping people get: 3.2 million more people are in work.

Family relationship support providers such as Relate, Tavistock Relationships, OnePlusOne and Marriage Care are concerned that there could be a gap in funding—and therefore in critical services such as parental conflict resolution—after current contracts end next month and before new contracts start. How will Ministers address this?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in this area. She was instrumental in securing a £39 million commitment from the previous Prime Minister towards this area of work. She knows that we are in the process of going through a procurement process for a new parental conflict programme, of which face-to-face therapy forms about 25%. We have recently published a timetable for the procurement process. I would be more than happy to meet her and the organisations to talk about what we can do to help.

T9. Universal credit is having a profound impact on local authorities, such as enormous housing revenue account pressures. Ahead of the roll-out of universal credit in Nottingham, what new resources will be made available to Nottingham City Council to mitigate this impact? (906188)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, a “new burdens” policy is in operation and has been for many years. Where local councils come forward with specific costs, we review them and make payments. In 2017-18, £13 million was paid out to local councils.

Will my hon. Friend outline what official support is available to families when one parent is unexpectedly unable to work because of a serious illness such as cancer? Does this support apply to claimants who are employed and self-employed?

There is a range of support and no two families are the same. I encourage my hon. Friend to go to her Jobcentre Plus. I am sure that the really able colleagues there will be able to advise on which benefits and types of support are available.

The PIP assessment has disproportionately and unfairly impacted on people with epilepsy, with 60% having their budgets reduced when they move from DLA to PIP. This is nearly 20% higher than for any other condition. Will the Government admit that the current assessment process is not fit for purpose for people with epilepsy and set out what is being done to improve it?

The vast majority of people who go through this process are very satisfied with it. Many more people are receiving higher amounts of payment on PIP than on DLA. I work very closely with the voluntary sector and charities to continuously improve PIP.

I am sure that you will be delighted, Mr Speaker, that Wimbledon is now under way. Of course, that means that tonnes of British strawberries will be consumed. I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s recent comments about encouraging more British workers to pick that fruit. Will she update the House on her plans in this area?

I am even more pleased that Roger Federer won his opening match in straight sets in less than an hour and a half. Conveniently it finished just before Question Time began—that was very helpful.

Then everyone is a winner today in this Chamber.

My hon. Friend is right. I have met representatives of the agricultural industry. What was key was people understanding what opportunities are out there, what the work entails and the wage that it pays, and the fact that universal credit supports people in and out of work, which means that they can take up these job opportunities.

A gentleman in his 80s attended my recent surgery regarding his son, who in his 50s and has complex and multiple disabilities. It beggars belief that he is being found fit for work. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this specific case? When will her Government stop vilifying the disabled and the most vulnerable in society?

Of course I will be absolutely delighted to meet the hon. Lady to discuss the case, but I utterly refute her assertion. We are absolutely determined to do everything that we can to make sure that people get the support that they need.

As the Minister will know, universal credit rolls out in Torbay on 5 September. I have already welcomed the work that has been done by the DWP to engage with me. Will he confirm what resources will be made available to ensure that the roll-out on 5 September is successful for my constituents?

My hon. Friend will be receiving a letter from the local jobcentre manager, and that will give him an opportunity to engage. We make sure that work coaches provide the one-to-one support that is so important under universal credit.

Joanne in my constituency needs 24-hour care. She was selected for early mandatory reassessment last November, a full year before her PIP was supposed to run out. She lost that reassessment and is appealing. When she lost, her money was stopped, and the family are living on food bank generosity. Does the Minister agree that that is deeply unfair? Will she take a fresh look at maintaining benefit payments for those who have early reassessments—in that case, a whole 12 months before the PIP was supposedly going to run out?

I remind the hon. Lady that PIP is a benefit for people both in work and out of work. It is there to recognise the additional costs of having a disability. For people who are unemployed, ESA is the benefit that they need to claim.

Children in workless households are five times more likely to live in poverty than those in working households. Can the Minister tell me by how much the number of workless households has risen or fallen since the Conservatives entered government in 2010?

The proportion of people in absolute poverty is now at a record low, with 1 million fewer people and 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty since 2010. I cannot at this moment recall the number of households, but I will write to my hon. Friend with that number.

There are just three case examiners working on 2,841 WASPI cases. The average wait for a complaint is 36 weeks, and last year 687 complaints took more than 43 weeks. Why are Ministers treating WASPI women with such disdain?

The reality of the situation is that these matters are going through a particular process. That process is ongoing, and the outcomes will be revealed when the decisions are made. There is no difference in any way from how the Government treat other claimants.

I do not want to see any young person in Redditch unemployed, which was why I set up Redditch Mentors, a scheme to help young people to reach their full potential. The last Labour Government presided over a record rise of 45% in young people being unemployed. What more are the Government doing to improve that?

May I commend my hon. Friend on all the work she does in her constituency? Youth unemployment is at a record low—it is 40% lower than it was under the last Labour Government—and programmes such as the youth support programme are available to help individuals. We value young people. It is about time that Labour did the same.

A Minister suggested earlier that the policies of the Labour Government had not reduced poverty. Are Ministers not aware that child poverty was reduced by 800,000 over 13 years thanks to the policy of the Labour Government? Are they also aware that it is now rocketing?

As the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), made clear, since 2010 there are 300,000 fewer children living in absolute poverty. As we have heard, the route out of poverty is work. We have record levels of employment, and that is something we should all welcome across the House.