DWP: Performance

Part of Opposition Day — [3rd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:36 pm on 30th June 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 9:36 pm, 30th June 2014

Let us be clear: this is not a debate about the philosophy of welfare reform. It is a debate about the way in which it is delivered, and about the service that our constituents receive. Today we have presented a catalogue of anxiety, chaos and waste: a catalogue of extra cost to the taxpayer, huge pressures on DWP staff, and inappropriate and hostile language used about benefits recipients—never challenged by Ministers, but hurtful and offensive, as we heard from, among others, my hon. Friends the Members for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and for Darlington (Jenny Chapman).

We have heard about anxiety, fear and hardship among those who rely on social security, namely most of us at some point in our lives. The Secretary of State, who is responsible for this calamity, is in denial, while his Department is on the brink of meltdown. I agree with my hon. Friend Dame Anne Begg, the Chair of the Select Committee: the Department has bitten off more than it can chew, and we are all paying the price.

This is what we have heard about today. Universal credit, the Government’s flagship policy, was intended to reach 7.7 million households by 2017, but in April it was reaching fewer than 6,000 people. It will take 1,052 years to roll out fully at this rate, and the cost to the taxpayer is rising. The Secretary of State will be concerned about that. The National Audit Office has drawn attention to the write-off of assets worth £40 million which have never been used, and a further £91 million of assets that will last for only five years. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that the NAO is talking nonsense. I am surprised that he is prepared to put that statement on record tonight.

The Department is having to invest in two system solutions in parallel. As the Select Committee has pointed out, we have no idea how or when the final system solution will be achieved, or how much it will cost. We still have no idea about the treatment of passported benefits following the introduction of universal credit. My right hon. Friend Stephen Timms asked about that in 2011, but we still do not know about the treatment of free school meals. There is no clarity about the scale, the cost, or who will receive them. We also have no idea of how or when housing benefit will migrate. The local support services framework, which the Department itself has said is as important as universal credit, is not in place, and is not yet even being piloted in universal credit areas. We do not know when that framework will arrive.

This is a tale of what my right hon. Friend Mrs McGuire rightly described as cumulative disaster, but Ministers have been determined to deny it. That is why we are demanding that the Government publish the risk register and other documentation relating to the delivery of universal credit, and the courts agree with us.

Then there is the failing Work programme—with overpayments to providers totalling £11 million, and getting just 7% of employment and support allowance claimants into work—coupled with the crisis of confidence in the work capability assessment that has been presided over by this Government. We have been told this evening, and the Minister told the Work and Pensions Committee a couple of weeks ago, that 700,000 cases, or just under, are now outstanding and awaiting WCAs, and 294,000 of those are former incapacity benefit recipients. As my hon. Friend Sheila Gilmore and others pointed out, that backlog of nearly 700,000 cases was not created by the Labour Government. It is a product of the mass migration of IB claimants by this Government, despite the warnings that we gave them that the system could not, and should not, bear that.

Meanwhile, nearly half the cases that are appealed are successful; reassessments have been halted altogether for two years; according to a leaked internal document, decisions are taking nine months; and I tell those who have said that the benefit, or annually managed expenditure, cap is one of the great achievements of this Government—Kwasi Kwarteng will be interested to know this—that it has resulted in an extra £800 million of costs since December on ESA and there will be an extra £13 billion by 2018-19, meaning the AME cap will be breached.