New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 13th June 2011.

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Photo of Yvonne Fovargue Yvonne Fovargue Labour, Makerfield 7:30 pm, 13th June 2011

I agree with one thing that Paul Uppal said, which was about taking responsibility. I therefore hope that he can support amendment 26, because it will mean that agencies can ensure that people know their rights and responsibilities following what has been described as the most fundamental change to the benefit system.

One of the first witnesses to appear before the Public Bill Committee said that although universal credit is a simplified benefit, the application for it will not be simple, because of all the different benefits that are rolled up together into it. I am old enough to remember when supplementary benefit changed to income support, and I saw the rise in demand for advice among people worried about what would happen to their income. For people who are on benefit, a small change in income means a lot.

That problem will be exacerbated in the current case, particularly given the fear of a civil penalty for a mistake or omission. People who go to advice bureaux do not want to know how to defraud the system; they want to know how to fill their form in correctly. An online application process will also worry people—particularly older people, but also some younger ones—who are concerned about filling a form out online and not seeing it until three, four or five days later. Support is needed to smooth the transition.

Universal credit will start in 2013—exactly the same time when the proposed changes to legal aid will remove help for the most complex welfare benefit cases. As my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms said, that is the perfect storm. Local authorities are examining every non-statutory service that they provide, and in some cases local advice agencies are losing funding. In fact, in a survey, 54% of local bureaux said that they were worried that they were unlikely to be around in 2013.

Let us scotch one myth. Local bureaux and advice agencies do not get any funding from central Government. The money goes to the central Citizens Advice, which provides a vital service in support of local bureaux. It provides information, training, support and IT services. Putting more money into local bureaux would mean that more would have to be charged for those services. It would be self-defeating. Local face-to-face advice is vital, along with the advisory telephone service. Many claimants are vulnerable, and such advice, provided locally, is of particular importance to them.