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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
02 July 2018
Volume 644

Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State was asked—

Universal Credit: Vulnerable Claimants

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1. What recent steps the Government has taken to protect the welfare of vulnerable universal credit claimants. [906155]

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Universal credit is a person-centred benefit focused on the needs of the individual. We are working continuously with a variety of stakeholders to ensure that we provide the right support for vulnerable claimants, and our work coaches undertake awareness training to identify claimants with complex needs.

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During a recent visit with the Secretary of State to the Barrhead jobcentre in my constituency, one of the things we discussed with staff was the payment of advances as a single payment potentially to claimants who have difficulty managing budgets or who are struggling with addiction. Will she take into account those concerns when reviewing how the advance system is operating?

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I was delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and local jobcentre and to visit the Greenhouse Café, which he champions and which helps vulnerable people to get closer to the workplace. On the question that he and the work coaches raised about the advance, those advances could be given up to 100%, and with the personal relationship that the work coaches have, through this training they can assess what the right needs are. That is the right thing to do.

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One of the concerns raised by the National Audit Office is that the Department does not really know who the vulnerable claimants are, and particular problems are being caused by the very long delay before people are entitled to their benefit. The right hon. Lady’s predecessor took an important step by reducing the minimum wait from six weeks to five. Will she commit to taking that further and reducing the period further still?

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Universal credit is all about the relationship with the work coach. They get to know their claimants and their claimants’ needs, so it is very much a tailor-made benefit. We as Ministers have always said that, should we need to adapt and change universal credit so that it best supports the individual, we will do just that. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman welcomed the changes that we have already made.

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Vulnerable claimants often consult their local citizens advice bureau. On a visit to the Chesham citizens advice bureau, staff told me that the fixed-term, timed appointments for their clients are often taken up by them hanging on to the DWP telephone line for up to 25 or 30 minutes, and then the time for the appointment has expired. Will the Secretary of State look at the telephone line and try to improve its efficiency and effectiveness, so that CAB advisers can instantly access the advice that they need to help these clients to make universal credit go smoothly?

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My right hon. Friend, who does so much for people in her constituency, and particularly those with autism, raises a very good point. We will look into exactly what we can do to do that for the citizens advice bureaux, as we have a very good working relationship with them.

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The National Audit Office’s report on universal credit shows that people such as carers, families needing support with childcare and disabled people are more likely to have to wait for an initial payment. The report shows that, in December 2017, only a third of disabled people were receiving their initial payments in full and on time. As the Secretary of State claims that the NAO report is out of date, can she tell us what the figure is now?

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As we said quite clearly, the NAO did not take into consideration all the changes that we had made and their impact. What we can say is that we know that 80% of people will get their payment on time and in full, but what the NAO report has not taken into consideration is that 90% will get some payment within the first month and it is invariably down to non-verification and not fulfilling their claimant commitment.

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On Thursday, our concerns became a reality, as we discovered from the Government’s figures that 190 women were put in the impossible position of declaring that their child was born as a result of rape in order to receive universal credit or child tax credits. We can also estimate from those figures that around 200,000 children have been affected by the two-child cap. How does she feel about cutting that money and stopping it being spent on up to 250,000 children?

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This whole House voted for the changes to tax credits so that we can make sure that people in work are treated the same way as people on benefits. However, what we did do was bring in a set of exemptions for people who would not be able to have those two children. It is only right that we have brought in specific exemptions to help those people who need them.

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The Government continue to mislead. We know from the figures that 59% of all those households impacted are already in work. The Secretary of State continues to suggest today that this was about making the choices the same for those who are in and out of work, but actually it is about the Government making people’s choices for them. What advice does she have for a woman who is in work and in receipt of tax credits or universal credit and who has fallen unexpectedly pregnant with what would be a third child?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that we still pay child benefit for all children. We are also paying childcare costs. In fact, those have increased. As I said, what we have done with tax credits is make sure that people who are paying their way and are not dependent on the state get the same support as those people who are also getting support from the state.

PIP Assessments: Appeals

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2. What recent estimate she has made of the average number of personal independence payment assessments that are overturned on appeal; and what the average waiting time is for such appeals to be heard. [906156]

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18. How many appeals have been granted against initial personal independence payment assessment decisions in the last 12 months. [906175]

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Data published by the Ministry of Justice last month shows that 57,000 decisions on personal independence payment claims were overturned on appeal in the last year. Of the 3.3 million decisions made since PIP was introduced, 9% have been appealed and 4% have been overturned. The average clearance time for PIP appeals in the last available quarter is 25 weeks.

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In my constituency, over two thirds of decisions are being overturned on appeal. That shameful record is the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the Minister. It is causing real personal distress to individuals in Wrexham having to wait over a year to have wrong decisions reversed. What will the ministerial team do to respond to the real hardship they are causing to vulnerable people?

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It is not necessarily the case that the decision made was the wrong decision; mostly what happens is that more information comes forward at the appeal. Hon. Members should look at the data I have already given. One wrong decision is one too many, however, which is why we have done a great deal of work to improve our decision-making process.

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Far too many of my constituents face exactly the same situation, and far too many have found they get no points in their assessment despite being severely disabled and having previously been awarded for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe anxiety. Does the Minister agree with a constituent of mine who wrote to me last week and described the Department for Work and Pensions and Capita as

“so robotic, intransigent and hard-nosed, it’s hard to comprehend why they were constructed that way given the purpose for which they were intended”?

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I respectfully point out to the hon. Gentleman that more people are receiving higher awards on PIP than did on the legacy benefit, disability living allowance, and people moving from DLA to PIP remain in payment while going through the process. I utterly refute what he said.

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What about my constituent?

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The hon. Gentleman wants to talk about constituents. I was on “You and Yours” last week and, during the phone-in, a whole series of people called in about their PIP experiences. As he has made his point, let us hear what Jennifer from Lancashire said:

“As it happens, it has worked very well for me.”

She contacted the Royal National Institute of Blind People, which helped her fill in the form, and the

“result was I now get the top rate for both things…. I get £140 whereas I used to get £112.”

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I especially welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the Select Committee on Work and Pensions recommendation to record PIP interviews. Will the Minister set out for the House the sort of timescale in which we can expect these changes to come through?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution today and the hard work he puts in on the Select Committee. I was delighted to welcome its recommendations, and I really believe that the video-recording of PIP assessments will reduce a lot of stress and anxiety, which largely occurs because of the scaremongering we see too often from the Opposition. We have begun work on the piloting and will be undertaking the testing this summer.

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At a recent Westminster Hall debate, several of us commented on how the PIP process had improved. Will the Minister continue to work with those of us who have suggestions for improving the system still further?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I am utterly determined to ensure that everyone has a very good experience of PIP. The independent customer satisfaction ratings show that the vast majority of people feel that they are treated with respect and dignity and receive the benefit to which they are entitled, but we will of course seek continuously to improve the process.

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My constituent in Normanton lost her Motability car because the DWP said that she was not entitled to it. Five weeks later it reversed the decision but, in the meantime, because my constituent was isolated, she was forced to spend thousands of pounds of her own savings on replacing the car so that she was not stuck. She has been denied any help since. Will the Minister look again at that case? It is outrageous that my constituent should lose all her savings because the DWP screwed up.

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I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. Of course I am always happy to meet all Members to review individual cases, but I suggest, for everyone’s benefit, that any Member with a constituent who faces losing a Motability car should call Motability. Motability is sitting on very considerable reserves. It is a charity and is able to make discretionary payments to enable people to keep their cars during the appeal process.

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Thank you for calling me, Mr Speaker, and thank you for your kindness to a group of visitors who came to see me in the House earlier today.

I thank the Minister for the answers that she has given so far. I recently met representatives of Carers Aid Torbay to talk about the PIP process and the support that they provide for those who are going through it. Can she reassure me that there will be engagement with groups such as that in respect of the potential introduction of video recording of interviews?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is very important for us to listen to people who are going through the process. I have regular meetings with disabled people and charities to ensure that we get it right and continuously improve the experience of our claimants.

Universal Credit: Roll-out

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

Universal Credit: Supporting People into Work

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4. What assessment she has made of the efficacy of universal credit in supporting people into work. [906158]

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The Department published an analysis on 8 June which showed a near doubling of the proportion of UC claimants in a paid job after eight months into the claim. The Department published analysis last year which shows that UC claimants are 4 percentage points more likely to be in work than an equivalent claimant on JSA six months after their claim.

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The National Audit Office reported that the Department will never be able to measure whether universal credit actually leads to more people in work because it cannot isolate the effect of UC against other economic factors. So if the Department serious in what it told the NAO about intending to evaluate specifically the impact of UC, is that evaluation under way, how many people are being evaluated and when will it report?

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As the Secretary of State has said, we are at record levels of employment in this country and that is because of the policies of this Government. The hon. Gentleman talks about the 200,000 extra people who will be in work as a result of UC. He will also know that, in 2012, the Institute for Fiscal Studies looked at the methodology, which related to the key element of this, which was the financial incentives that will make more people go into work, and it concluded that this was within the plausible range.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that it is right that our welfare system supports those in need, but in the long term the best way out of poverty is sustainable employment?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are at record levels of employment in this country. It is interesting that the Opposition talk about estimates. If I remember correctly, back in 2010, the Opposition said we would lose 1 million jobs as a result of our policies, but we have created 3.2 million. At the end of the day, when it comes to estimates, I am not taking lectures from the Opposition.

Universal Credit: NAO Report

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5. What assessment she has made of the implications for her Department’s policies of the findings of the NAO report entitled rolling out universal credit, published on 15 June 2018. [906160]

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It is unfortunate that the NAO was unable to take into account the significant changes recently implemented in universal credit. Those changes address many of the concerns raised in its report. We continue to listen and learn from feedback, and make the necessary changes to the benefit as we roll it out.

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Many of my constituents are among the one in five individuals who are not paid universal credit on time. As the Minister should know, the NAO specifically recommended that UC should not be rolled out further until the system can extend and work with the current level of applications. Will she accept that recommendation?

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The NAO made clear quite the opposite: it said that we need to continue with universal credit. It was also concerned that it was rolling out too slowly and said that actually we should increase what we are doing. So what the right hon. Gentleman says is absolutely not what the NAO said.

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Will my right hon. Friend confirm that more than eight in 10 claimants are satisfied with their experience of universal credit?

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My hon. Friend is right—that is exactly the number. Actually, Patrick from Newport has said that it helped him with fares to get to a job and with the cost of clothing. He said:

“Thanks for all your help. It was really easy dealing with everyone who helped me back into work quickly and helping me buy what I need and travel back and forth.”

That was an example from Wales.

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The National Audit Office report recommended that the Government should

“ensure the programme does not expand before business-as-usual operations can cope with higher claimant volumes”,

yet in her oral statement on 21 June, the Secretary of State said that the NAO report stated that the Government should

“continue with the roll-out and do it faster.”—[Official Report, 21 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 495.]

Will the Secretary of State tell us where in the report it says that the roll-out should be speeded up?

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Yes, in the report it says just that. It says that it needs to continue to go forward and it needs to continue at a faster rate.

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The NAO report acknowledged the close links between local authorities and universal credit. As one of the first full-service sites, Rugby and its borough council received an £85,000 payment to assist with the cost of digitisation. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming that valuable support for local authorities in full-service areas?

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I will indeed join my hon. Friend in praising that support. It is really important that local authorities are involved in what is happening and that we provide the right support on the ground for individuals to get their benefit.

Universal Credit: Financial Hardship

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6. What assessment she has made of trends in the level of financial hardship experienced by universal credit claimants. [906161]

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The best way to help people financially is to help them into work, and universal credit will get 200,000 more people into work. Our recent survey evidence shows that people on UC and in work had an average increase in reported earnings of £600 a year. There was also an 8% fall in the number of people on incomes of £10,000 a year or less.

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The DWP’s own survey also found that after nine months on universal credit, 40% of claimants were falling behind with their bills or experiencing real financial hardship. This is a problem not of the initial waiting period but of ongoing insufficient income. The Secretary of State has tested and learned about hardship levels. How will she fix them?

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As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, the close and constructive relationship between work coaches and their clients should enable them as a team to get through any hardship that arises. The hon. Lady is attempting to build a career on bashing universal credit, but she never does so in context. We have chosen to fight poverty in a different way. We have chosen to fight it with work rather than with welfare. She never points out that, under the last Labour Government, the number of households where no one worked almost doubled.

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Earlier on, the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), mentioned scaremongering by the Opposition. I can confirm that that scaremongering causes grave anxiety among my constituents. Will the Minister confirm that, for example, an advance payment does not involve rates of interest and that it is reimbursed by deductions made over a period of months?

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My hon. Friend is exactly right. I was pleased to be able to sit with him in a meeting with some of his third sector organisations, including his local food bank, his citizens advice bureau and his local refuge, to try to scotch some of the mythology that has been created around universal credit. Wherever universal credit has been in place for some time, it receives universal praise from work coaches on the frontline and very high satisfaction levels from the people who are using it.

Universal Credit: Roll-out

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7. What progress her Department is making on the roll-out of universal credit. [906162]

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Nearly 1 million people are now claiming universal credit, with around 37% of them in employment. We take 5,000 new claims a day and universal credit is operational in half of all jobcentres, with the full roll-out expected to be concluded by the end of the year.

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From the Government’s own business case for universal credit, it transpires that just 3% of those who have been brought into conditionality under universal credit are expected to find work, as a result of sanctions. Given that my constituents are going to suffer this roll-out in September, does he think that this is a robust business case for his Department’s punitive and callous sanctions regime?

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Enunciate, man!

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The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) talks about sanctions, but he will know that the regime is different. For example, under JSA if somebody who was due to come in for an interview does not contact us after five days, they fall out of the system and are not sanctioned. Under universal credit, however, we continue to pay all the elements—the child element and the housing element—but the sanction that they would face applies only to the standard allowance. The hon. Gentleman talks about wanting to help people, but the Scottish National party voted against £1.5 billion of support. If he wants to support people, he should try to support the Government from time to time.

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Order. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), from a sedentary position and rather gratuitously, offered advice and exhortation to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands). I simply say to the hon. Member for Lichfield that we can always hear him with crystal clarity. He is in no danger of not being noticed.

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Thank you.

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rose—

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It is always good to hear from the hon. Lady, but we have already heard from her.

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Constituents who do not have a passport or driving licence, because they do not drive or have no need of one or cannot afford one, cannot use the online verification system and need to be seen in person at a job centre, but there are huge waits for appointments, including for those who urgently need advance payments. What is the Minister doing to tackle that?

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The hon. Lady knows that advance payments are available if they are required on the day. As for verification, there is a set of criteria that can be applied so that we do not have to go through the verification system. If the hon. Lady has specific cases, she should please bring them to me as I would be happy to look into them.

Universal Credit: Death of Applicants

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8. How many universal credit applicants have died during the period that their application was being assessed and as a result have received a zero payment for the days during that period when they were alive. [906163]

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For universal credit full service, around 1,200 cases have been closed with a deceased closure reason since roll-out began in 2016, with the vast majority receiving a payment.

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I know of cases where no universal credit payment has been received when constituents have passed away towards the end of their assessment period. Essentially, the DWP classes someone who dies at the end of an assessment period as having died at the beginning. Will the Minister address this so that bereaved families are not financially punished?

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I have corresponded with the hon. Gentleman about one specific case. There are circumstances in which payment is still made after the death of a claimant and where payments have continued for two subsequent assessment periods, such as when the individual was in a couple. However, I note the hon. Gentleman’s point and will look into the policy.

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A connected problem might be that the Department does not tell people whether they are entitled to prescriptions when their UC claim is awarded. Will the Department please start doing that, because several of my constituents have been in touch in deep distress because of the fivefold fines that they have been forced to pay?

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We do not want anybody to be in distress. If colleagues on either side of the House have specific cases, they should bring them to Ministers. We hear a lot of general commentary, but we would like to help individuals, so please bring us those specific cases.

Universal Credit: Claimant Satisfaction

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9. What assessment her Department has made of rates of universal credit claimant satisfaction. [906164]

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Some 83% universal credit claimants are satisfied with the service. The claimant survey shows that the majority of people find interactions with their work coach, both online and in person, to be helpful and that the online journal is easy to use.

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With universal credit due to be rolled out in Clacton later this month, will my right hon. Friend reassure me that, with recent changes to the system, my residents will get a better service?

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I want to recognise all the hard work that my hon. Friend does in his constituency. Yes, his constituents will get a better service now that we have added those changes. However, he does not have to take my words for it. Chloe, a lone parent, said: “Universal credit is easier than the old system, and it has helped me to get a job. It is simpler, as I do not have to keep putting my wage slips in. I can actually vary my wages and get paid automatically.”

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Has the Secretary of State looked into the level of satisfaction of people on the autism spectrum and of those facing similar challenges? Her Department’s offices around the country are very autism-unfriendly and difficult places for people on the autism spectrum to approach. When will her Department have a policy for autistic people?

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I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern for young people, or anybody, with autism. This is something that we, as a country, have to get right, as we are seeing a rising number of people with autism. Both sides of the House work very closely on this, whether it is my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work or Opposition Members.

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I think we must have a dose of Swayne.

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What is the impact on housing association tenants?

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My right hon. Friend asks a rather open question but we have a landlord portal for housing association tenants. If people need their payments done automatically, they can have just that—if that is what he is referring to.

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Well, the Secretary of State had a stab at it, and we are extremely grateful to her for doing so.

Supporting People with Disabilities and Health Conditions

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10. How much her Department has spent on supporting people with disabilities and health conditions in the last 12 months; and what the change in that amount has been in real terms since 2010. [906165]

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In 2017-18, the Department for Work and Pensions spent £51.9 billion on benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions. This year it is forecast to rise to £54 billion, £9.3 billion more in real terms than in 2010-11. Spending on the main disability benefits—PIP, DLA and attendance allowance—has risen by over £5 billion since 2010 and is at a record high this year.

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I thank the Minister for her answer. Will she join me in congratulating the East Cleveland employment and training hub in Skinningrove, which opened in February and has done brilliant work for a number of my constituents, including those with the health and disability issues to which my question refers?

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My hon. Friend is a real champion for all his constituents, and I am pleased to join him in praising the work of the East Cleveland employment and training hub, which I understand plays a pivotal role in the community in enabling people to be supported into employment and is particularly valuable for those people who recently lost their jobs at the local potash mine.

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My constituent Alexandra Mitchell is unable to walk without heavy metal callipers. She cannot use her feet to drive and has hand controls in the Motability car she now stands to lose because her PIP assessment says that if she can drive, she must be able to walk. Does the Minister accept that this example, and those we have heard from other hon. Members, calls into question the quality of PIP assessments? Does she accept that the system is flawed and needs to be sorted?

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One experience of poor customer service is one too many, and of course I will meet her.

I also want to point out what Kate from the west midlands said, again on “You and Yours”: “My 35-year-old daughter has a learning disability. She doesn’t read or write, so I filled in the form for her. From her point of view, it turned out to be a very good experience because when she was on DLA she was on the lower rate but, because of the new criteria, she is now on the higher rate and has a mobility car. So from our point of view, it’s been really positive.”

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The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities carried out a robust inquiry into the effects of the Government’s policies, including social security, on disabled people. It found “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights. The Minister recently said that she is

“utterly committed to the convention.”—[Official Report, 20 June 2018; Vol. 643, c. 124WH.]

When the Government respond to the report later this summer, will she finally commit to carrying out a cumulative impact assessment of the Government’s policies, as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

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We were very disappointed that, when it came to the UK, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities did not take into consideration the great deal of evidence that was provided. When I make my very full response, I am sure I will set the record straight so that the committee understands that we are very proud to be a world-leading country in supporting people with disabilities to fulfil their potential in society.

Of course we are always determined to do more, and we do an equality impact assessment every single time there is any sort of policy change.

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We know an impact assessment of the social security policies can be carried out, because the Equality and Human Rights Commission has done so. Is it not the truth that the Government will not do this because they are afraid that an impact assessment will confirm what the UN, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and disabled people say, which is that this Government’s policies have created a hostile environment that is causing grave violations against disabled people?

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I can assure the hon. Lady that that is simply not the case. We have very strong protections for people with disabilities in our country, not the least of which is the Equality Act 2010. I make sure that impact assessments are done on all policies that are undertaken. I honestly ask all Opposition Members not to use this language of “a hostile environment”, as it is simply not the case and as the very people who need all of our support are put off seeking it and coming forward. I ask Opposition Members to stop saying things they know are not true.

Employment: People with Family Responsibilities

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11. What steps the Government are taking to improve employment opportunities for people with family responsibilities. [906166]

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17. What steps the Government are taking to improve employment opportunities for people with family responsibilities. [906174]

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21. What steps the Government are taking to improve employment opportunities for people with family responsibilities. [906178]

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Universal credit supports parents into work through better incentives, and through simplifying and smoothing their transition into the workplace—with UC work will always pay. Furthermore, the Government now provide more support than ever before to help parents with the costs of childcare; under UC people can now claim 85% of their costs, which compares with 70% under tax credits.

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Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the figures from the House of Commons Library showing that since 2010 the number of children living in workless households in Greater Manchester has fallen by 7.2%? Does he agree that that is in no small part thanks to the record number of jobs created by this Government?

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It will not surprise Members to know that I am more than happy to celebrate the results of that research and to thank my hon. Friend for the work she does in her constituency in promoting this, not least in being a champion for Manchester airport, where thousands of her constituents work, and where there is a strong capacity for growth and yet more jobs.

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Enunciation from Lichfield—Mr Michael Fabricant.

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I will be very precise, Mr Speaker. Does my hon. Friend agree that the key to getting people out of poverty is work? Given that this Government have created 1,000 new jobs every single day since 2010, we have produced the key to unlock that door.

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My hon. Friend has absolutely put his finger on the button. As I said in an earlier answer, in this country we have tried fighting poverty with welfare in the past and failed. The Labour Government spent some £150 billion on tax credits and hardly moved the poverty indicators at all. We have chosen the route of work as the way to human dignity, prosperity and control for people and their families. I celebrate with him the success of the entire country, and not least his constituency.

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By delivering record numbers of jobs, reducing taxes, increasing childcare provision and raising wages, does my hon. Friend agree that it is this Conservative Government who are delivering for families?

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We are indeed delivering for families. I know it is a joy to many in this House to hear a voice of optimism from Southport at last, from a new Member who works closely with his local business community, recommending that its prosperity lies at the heart of that of many of his constituents. We know that outcomes for children, in particular, are significantly improved if the adults in the household are working and that children in workless families are more than twice as likely to fail to achieve at school.

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Ministers will know from the experience of women born in the 1950s that giving people advance notice of changes means they have time to plan. Given that in 2019 families in work with more than two children are set to lose their universal credit support for their third child, what steps is the Department taking to let people know in advance so that they have time to plan?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, there are no cash losers from this policy: anybody who has an existing third child will continue to retain their support, and that will be preserved as they transition on to UC; we will continue to pay child benefit, no matter the number of children; and of course there will be significant childcare assistance for those who move on to UC.

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Is it not the case that universal credit claimants with family responsibilities could face a sanction for refusing a job offer with a zero-hours contract? Is it not also the case that the Government are forcing people into insecure, low-paid work?

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The whole point of the new constructive relationship between work coaches and their clients is that they are able to take people’s personal circumstances into account, particularly in respect of children and childcare responsibilities. If sanctions are required, they are at all times reasonable and commensurate with the person’s circumstances. The enormous assistance that we are giving for childcare should hopefully overcome any barriers, but if the hon. Gentleman has constituency cases that he would like to bring to my attention, I would be more than happy to look at them.

State Pension

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12. How many people have taken receipt of the state pension in (a) 2010 and (b) 2018 in Kettering constituency; and what the change in the value of the state pension has been over that period. [906167]

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In 2010, there were 17,400 recipients of the state pension in Kettering, and the most recent data shows that that number had risen to 18,600 in 2017. In cash terms, the full basic state pension is now worth £1,450 a year more in 2018-19 than in 2010. That is a £660 a year more than would have been the case if the pension had been uprated solely by earnings.

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That is great news for existing pensioners in Kettering and throughout the country, but what about tomorrow’s pensioners? How many people are being auto-enrolled into private pension schemes?

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As you know, Mr Speaker, where Kettering leads the nation follows. In Kettering, a record-breaking 10,000 men and women have now been automatically enrolled into a workplace pension. They are part of the millions of working men and women of this nation who are similarly benefiting from automatic enrolment.

PIP: Early Assessments

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13. What criteria her Department uses to recall people in receipt of personal independence payments for an early assessment. [906168]

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The hon. Gentleman has written to me about a particular constituency case and I very much look forward to sitting down with him to discuss that. Generally, we start the review period around a year ahead to make sure that everybody has the time that they need to provide all the necessary information and so that we can go back to doctors or medical professionals. Sometimes, people’s situation sadly deteriorates and we need to make sure that they get the level of help that they need.

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I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but I have constituents whose conditions are not going to improve, and one of my constituents has been called back for early assessment three times in three years, causing her a great deal of stress. If people have conditions that are not going to improve, does it not make sense to give them the benefit for longer and not reassess them so regularly?

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I very much look forward to our meeting, and hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the recent changes. We have worked closely with disabled people and charities. We introduced the severe conditions criteria so that if people are on the highest levels of employment and support allowance or PIP and their condition is, sadly, not going to improve, their claim will be extended almost indefinitely.

Assisted Technology

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14. What steps the Government have taken to encourage assisted technology as a means to help disabled people into the workplace. [906169]

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We are committed to making sure that all disabled people who want to work have the opportunity to do so. I am really pleased that, over the past four years, more than 600,000 more disabled people are in work. Assistive technology is of course playing a key role in that. We support such initiatives through the Access to Work tech fund and Disability Confident.

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The Minister will know that autonomous vehicle technology is moving along quickly. Does she agree that autonomous vehicles could give people increased social mobility, and enable people with physical disabilities or those who are partially sighted to access work?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. The Government are investing hundreds of millions into research and development to make sure that we fully understand the potential of autonomous vehicles and make sure that they really do benefit disabled people.

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In the light of all the controversy around the quality of PIP assessments, would it not save time to get people’s medical records automatically, thereby reducing face-to-face assessments, appeals and the hardship for beneficiaries?

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The hon. Lady raises an important point. As part of our continuous improvement of PIP, we work closely with healthcare professionals so that we can speed up the process and make sure that we get all the right information to make the best possible decision the first time around.

Pension Transition Arrangements

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15. What recent representations she has received from people affected by the pension transition arrangements for women born in the 1950s. [906171]

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The Department has received a number of representations from people regarding changes to state pension age since 1995, and the matter has been comprehensively debated on many occasions. Women will receive their state pension either at the same age as men or earlier as we remove the current inequality.

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The Government have seen fit to award the richest personal earners and the top five wealthiest corporations in the country tens of billions of pounds in tax cuts. Do the Government think that the Tories are being fair when they steal the pensions of women to stuff their friends’ pockets?

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It is always good to hear the dinosaur that is my friend from the north-east, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn). He was in government between 1997 and 2010 when he could have changed the law and did not. The reality of the situation is that the richest 1% have never paid more tax than at present and that corporation tax reductions create jobs, as has been comprehensively proved. He, I am afraid, has no grasp of the facts as they now are.

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rose—

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I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that we have time for a short question, but not at this point for a preamble, I am afraid. A short question will be fine—30 seconds.

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Women born in the 1950s are the victims of a monumental pensions injustice. Christine is 62 and cannot retire until she is 66. Her husband has died, and she now has to do three cleaning jobs to make ends meet. At the very least, will the Government follow the lead of the Labour Mayor for Greater Manchester and introduce free bus travel for the women affected? They deserve better.

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I merely repeat the point that I made previously: between 1997 and 2010, there was a Labour Government. Not only did they support this policy, but they expanded it through the Pensions Act 2008, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well, raised the state pension age.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [906179]

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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.

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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?

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Could you explain it again?

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

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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.

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Well, we are all now considerably better informed.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Order. The Minister was extremely clear; there was no chuntering there, that’s for sure.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Order. I am sorry, but we must now move on. Demand has exceeded supply, as is common.