Universal Credit

Part of Estimates 2014-15 — Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 7:56 pm on 7th July 2014.

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Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 7:56 pm, 7th July 2014

I will look into that additional point and get back to the right hon. Gentleman. On his last point, I have had the answer checked by my officials and it was correct.

On the roll-out, the new service is now available in 24 areas across England, Wales and Scotland, where it is providing people with stronger incentives and support to get into work, stay in work and increase their income. On 23 June 2014, we began rolling out universal credit for single people to jobcentres across the north-west of England, starting with Hyde, Stalybridge, Stretford, and Altrincham. Last week, it went live in Southport, Crosby, Bootle, Bolton and Farnworth. I am pleased to say that today, Wirral, Birkenhead, Bromborough, Hoylake, Upton and Wallasey began accepting claims for the new benefit. Once the north-west expansion is complete, 90 jobcentres—that is one in eight jobcentres in Britain— will be offering universal credit.

From 30 June, we expanded the service to couples in five of the existing live areas: Rugby, Bath, Inverness, Hammersmith and Harrogate. That meets our commitment to expanding the new service to more areas and to more claimant types from this summer. We will continue to roll out universal credit carefully in a safe and secure manner—starting small, testing and learning from delivery. That remains the right approach. Later in the autumn, it will be expanded to include families.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South answered the question about whether somebody will be able to feed in information about how many hours they work per week. Such real-time information is another part of the programme that we had the foresight to put in place. That is working well and the roll out of it is nearly 100% complete—it is more than 99% rolled out.

I have just received a quote from a claimant in Warrington who is working 20 hours a week:

“I’m currently working 20 hours a week but am able to pick up extra hours when overtime is on offer because UC is flexible in that way and I don’t have to worry about my benefit just stopping if I work more than 16 hours. I know I will still get support until I earn enough to completely pay my own way”.

That is what we always intended to happen. There is a cushion of benefit to support people, but they are able to take extra hours and to progress in work without being stopped from working by the old-fashioned rules and regulations that Labour Members allowed to continue for so long. That is what we are trying to change. We all agreed, including the Select Committee, that those changes were needed. That is an example of a claimant saying what is happening to them right now under this system.

Sadly, I come to the questions that were asked by Debbie Abrahams. One thing on which we agree is that the media must talk about people and depict people carefully and sensitively. Nobody wants to point the finger at anybody. Nobody on the Government Benches has used any inflammatory language, because that is not right. I have always been very careful about the words that I use, because we all know people who have fallen on hard times and have needed the support of the state. It is imperative that each and every one of us checks our language, because it means a lot, whether it is on the internet, in newspapers or on the radio. I totally agree with her about that.

However, I totally disagreed with the hon. Lady—I am sure she will understand this—when she asked how the Secretary of State is still in his job. I had to smile at that rather absurd comment, given what he has delivered in four years. We have a record number of people in work. We are delivering on youth unemployment: it has gone down consistently for nine consecutive months. It is now 100,000 lower than when Labour was in office. Under Labour, youth unemployment went up by 45%. We have had the biggest fall in long-term unemployment, which doubled under Labour, since 1998. There is not just a record number of women in work, but a record rate of women in work too. All of those things are why the Secretary of State is still in his job: he has changed things around fundamentally.

The hon. Lady talks about a £40 million write-down. Projects of this size usually have about 30% write-down rate—this has a 10% rate. Labour’s track record of IT failure is £26 billion written off with no scope whatever, so we can move on to why universal credit is so important. Even the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is very clear about the benefits of universal credit, recently stating:

Universal Credit is a once in a generation opportunity to reform a failing and overly-complex system. It will revoke the worst work incentives of the current system, smooth transitions in and out of work and make it easier for people to access all the support they are entitled to.”

Those are the reasons why we are correct in pursuing universal credit.