Universal Credit

Part of Estimates 2014-15 — Department for Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 7:05 pm on 7th July 2014.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 7:05 pm, 7th July 2014

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but obviously there are other complications for people with very variable earnings, and I am not confident that they will all be overcome.

Finally, on the IT that we are expected to believe will be in place at some point, last week the Secretary of State delivered absolutely no clarity when we debated this in the Chamber. When I intervened to ask him what the end-state solution was, he replied:

“It is universal credit completely delivering to everybody in the UK. That is the end-state solution—live, online and fully protected.”—[Hansard, 30 June 2014; Vol. 583, c. 645.]

Again, that is describing the end aspiration in a very generalised way, but it tells us absolutely nothing about whether it will work.

Any change of this sort requires a lot of thought and practice. One of the issues about which there remains considerable concern—we have not heard a great deal about this from DWP—is the direct payment of housing benefit to the claimant and then to the landlord. To be fair, DWP has been carrying out pilots for two years to see how that would work, and I think that they have now come to an end. I understand that an independent evaluation is now with the Department, although it has not yet been published—perhaps the Minister knows more about that than I do. However, the data from the organisations that have been piloting it are now in the public domain. They looked initially at some 6,700 people

—in different small groups across the country—that it was tested on. At the end of the pilot, 4,700 were still on direct payments, but 1,993 of the original group had been returned to having payments made directly to their landlord. That is a considerable proportion of the total. That rings some alarm bells on how well it will work. The landlords involved in those pilots have said constantly that it worked only as a result of very intensive work that has been done precisely because they are pilots. There is considerable concern that that will not be scalable to the required extent. Although I certainly commend the Department for running those pilots, we need to hear what lessons have been learnt, whether any further changes to the plans are required and how these things will be made to work in the longer term.

There are many other aspects of universal credit that people have raised concerns about. In many ways we have almost forgotten about some of the downsides, such as second earners being less incentivised to work under universal credit rules, as drawn up by the Government—they could be changed—than they are under the current system, and there is the fact that some families with disabled children will receive less than they do at the moment. There was a lot of debate about those issues, and the fact that we are nowhere near including some of those people is probably why those concerns have gone off the boil, but we should not forget about them. Even if universal credit is properly implemented, it is not a case of all winners and no losers, because a significant number of people will still be worse off under universal credit.

The detailed rules for universal credit can be changed, and in some ways that is where the bookcase has its merits. Some of the concerns about the rate of tapering of income, which has been changed since the original proposals, and how we deal with school meals, child care and families with disabled children could all be addressed. I think that it is a pity that at this stage we are so far away from those people being included in the new system that we do not even need to look for the answers. Just over 6,000 people are on universal credit, and that is predominantly JSA with a few changes, so the simplest of cases and situations. That is not really a fantastic achievement. I am sorry if that is describing the glass as being half empty, but that is certainly how it appears to me.