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Covid-19: Meeting Increased Demand for Services

Volume 678: debated on Monday 29 June 2020

What steps she has taken to meet the increased demand on her Department’s services resulting from the covid-19 outbreak. (903907)

I want to praise our excellent jobcentre staff and all Department for Work and Pensions staff and contractors for their tireless work through this emergency in supporting an unprecedented level of new claimants as well as existing claimants. To assist this effort, we redeployed thousands of staff and streamlined our processes where possible. Looking forward, we are now working with local managers to start fully reopening jobcentres in July to help get Britain back into work. Over 1,700 people are now working remotely, and we have already recruited new people into the DWP to help with the increased demand.

Unemployment in Wolverhampton is above the country average, and covid-19 will have an impact on these figures. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the local jobcentre staff, who have been working tirelessly through this pandemic, will play an integral part in making sure our great city is not left behind?

My hon. Friend is right to pay tribute to staff at his local jobcentre. Without the success of the furlough scheme introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, this could have been far worse. We are working hard across Government to help people in these challenging times to get back into work as soon as possible and to support an economic recovery that levels up all parts of the country, including Wolverhampton. I am sure my hon. Friend can refer people to the two new websites, job help and employer help, to signpost people to live vacancies and online support.

I would like the Secretary of State to pass on our thanks to her team for the tremendous work that her officials have been doing at this very difficult time, but does she agree that the digital nature of universal credit has enabled it to respond effectively in recent months?

My hon. Friend is spot on. The Department has acted at incredible pace to bring in measures as quickly as possible to help those most financially disadvantaged as a result of c-19. Through the digital universal credit system, we have enabled those changes to take place while meeting that unprecedented demand. The legacy system, which was heavily paper-based, would simply have been unable to cope.

I also pay tribute to all the frontline staff at the DWP for the way they have processed so many claims for support since the beginning of the crisis. It is important to recognise, however, that the universal credit they have been processing so far in this crisis is a significantly different product from usual. In particular, all sanctions and conditionality have been temporarily suspended. That suspension is due to end tomorrow. At a time when unemployment has risen sharply, the number of vacancies has dropped, people are shielding and schools have not yet gone back, threatening people with reducing their financial support if they do not look for jobs is surely untenable, so will the Secretary of State announce an immediate extension?

It is important that as the jobcentres fully reopen this week we reinstate the need for a claimant commitment. It is an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there are, but I know that I can trust the work coaches and jobcentre managers, who are empowered to act proactively with people. There will be some people right now who have not had to look for a job for the last 20 to 30 years, and they will need careful support, tailored to make sure they can start to look for the jobs that are available and those which I hope will soon become available.