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Universal Credit: Roll-out

Volume 644: debated on Monday 2 July 2018

3. What recent steps the Government have taken to ensure that universal credit is rolled out effectively. (906157)

We are continuously testing, learning and improving to deliver an effective roll-out. The pace of the roll-out reflects the need to listen, respond and get it right. We have rolled out universal credit to 353 jobcentres and are increasing the roll-out to 60 jobcentres per month. Universal credit is on track to be in all jobcentres nationally by the end of 2018.

This Wednesday sees the roll-out of full-service universal credit in North Devon. Will the Secretary of State join me in acknowledging the hard work of Jobcentre Plus staff in ensuring the smoothest possible transition for all claimants?

I will indeed join my hon. Friend in thanking his team. I also thank him for what he has personally done in his local area, working with Alex Coull, the work coach team leader, and his team. They have done an excellent job, engaging with stakeholders from North Devon Homes, North Devon Council, Citizens Advice Devon and North Devon+. That is the sort of work that all Members of Parliament can do to ensure that universal credit is rolled out safely.

19. Increasingly, my constituents are finding that elements of their benefits have been withdrawn—because there is less money in the bank—before the DWP has sent the decision letter. When they phone the helpline, they are told that, as a decision letter has not been sent, the adviser cannot discuss anything with them. A month later the letter arrives, with an explanation of their right to appeal. Will the Secretary of State put her house in order, and ensure that claimants are the first and not the last to know? (906176)

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that case. It would be good to meet her. I have surgeries every Monday in the Tea Room, and if she would like to raise a personal case with me, I ask her please to do so. We can go through the case and see exactly what happened.

May I commend the Secretary of State and convey to her the comments of staff at a jobcentre in Redditch? People who have worked there for decades said that universal credit was the best system that they had seen for 30 years. That is because it is an individualised system based on the “test and learn” approach. What more can the Secretary of State do to ensure that that approach helps our constituents?

My hon. Friend has made a very good point. When we speak to the people who are working with the system day in, day out, they say that it is the best system that they have ever seen, and it is about a “test and learn” process. Listening to what is said in the House, one would not believe that over 3.2 million more people were in work. That is not something that happens by mistake. It is as a result of the hard work of our work coaches and the direction that is being set by the Government.

I am extraordinarily grateful to the Secretary of State, whose answers I always enjoy. The only point that I would make, gently, to colleagues on both sides of the House is that we have a lot of questions to get through, so we do need to be briefer—and that is now to be exemplified by no less a figure in the House than Mr Frank Field.

Will the Secretary of State commission a report on real-time income, which for many of our constituents provides neither real-time information nor income and results in hardship, and publish that report?

The right hon. Gentleman raises a good point. We are looking constantly at real-time income—how it works and how it works best—and we continue to do that and put out new guidance when we know what is going on.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether universal credit is seeing more people into work sooner than jobseeker’s allowance did?

Not only is it seeing more people into work sooner, but it shows they are staying in work longer and looking to do more hours. It also shows that people who are in work are earning £600 more a year on average. My hon. Friend has raised a good question.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ own survey of claimants under universal credit full service found that over 40% were unable to register a claim online unassisted. These people are the most likely to be vulnerable in our society. Universal support is meant to address this, but the NAO report reveals that providers told the NAO that universal support does not meet the needs of claimants and leaves providers insufficient time to assist them. What are the Government going to do to ensure that these people receive the support they need?

As the hon. Lady will know, we have provided £200 million-worth of support for local authorities to help people who will need the help not just for budgeting but for going online through IT; we have a free phone line and we meet with people face to face to do just that.