Universal Credit

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 2018.

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Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon 12:00 am, 5th February 2018

What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of universal credit in helping people into work.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Universal credit has had a positive impact since its start, as shown through published research and analysis. Independent research shows us that people are spending more time looking for work, applying for more jobs and even doing jobs they would not have considered doing before.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

Constituents in Gordon will face longer waiting times for payments due to the Scottish Government’s policy of fortnightly payment. What support can my right hon. Friend offer the devolved Administration in Edinburgh to help reduce those times?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The advice would be to take the approach of England and Wales. As my hon. Friend says, the Scottish approach delays payment at the end of the assessment period, with 75% rather than 100% of money on time, due to the fortnightly payment.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Labour, Dudley North

The introduction of universal credit is not helping to keep 250 highly skilled HMRC staff working on tax credits in Dudley in work. They were told they would be transferring to the Secretary of State’s Department to work on universal credit. Last week, they were told that her Department has cancelled that, their office will close and they will be made redundant. Will she ensure that the transfer goes ahead as originally planned, so that my constituents can keep their jobs, and will she meet me to discuss it?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will indeed meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that. Back in 2016, HMRC announced that move and transfer of jobs. It now seems that as many jobs were not needed for UC. I know that it wants to retain the staff and their skills and knowledge, but I will meet him to discuss the best way forward.

Photo of Luke Hall Luke Hall Conservative, Thornbury and Yate

Does the Secretary of State agree that universal credit is helping all those people who are stuck in a situation where they are only paid to work 16 hours a week and that it is fairer to those employees, the other employees in those businesses and taxpayers, who end up supporting the bill?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The reason we are making this significant change from the legacy system is to ensure that every hour of work counts. We will not have a situation where people are stuck not working or paying punitive rates of income tax of 90% and above if they take work after 16 hours. This is cutting-edge technology. The UK is leading the way on flexible benefits that accompany flexible working, which nowhere else has.

Photo of Lucy Powell Lucy Powell Labour/Co-operative, Manchester Central

May I welcome the Secretary of State to her position? Perhaps she might think to show a little more humility when answering some of these difficult questions on universal credit. Has she considered some of the other benefits that are not included in universal credit, such as free school meals, free uniforms, free bus passes and so on? Many low-paid working families will lose out on those benefits under universal credit, which will make them worse off in work than if they were still on benefits.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

These are precisely the things that have been considered in bringing forward universal credit. What support are we giving? The extra childcare support. What is the extra support? Tailor-made career advice and support. We all need humility, but, equally, we all need to hand out and deliver the correct facts to people, not embellish them, resort to sound and fury or drama, or provide obviously incorrect information, as the UK Statistics Authority has levelled against the Labour party.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Conservative, Cleethorpes

Last month, I visited Grimsby jobcentre, which serves my constituency, and it is very clear that the staff are handling the changeover to universal credit very efficiently. Will the Secretary of State join me in complimenting the staff, including the work they do in motivating claimants and improving their self-confidence so that they can seek employment?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I have actually met the tremendous work coaches in his constituency. I go out to speak to work coaches all the time, and they are saying to me that the change we are delivering through universal credit is the best thing they have ever delivered. The support they can give—[Interruption.] Rather than Opposition Members laughing, they would be well advised to come and join me or others in meeting work coaches. I will tell them how we know this is working: if it were not working, we would not have an extra 3.1 million people in work.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice)

Contrary to the “SNP bad” broken record from Colin Clark, will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the Scottish Government’s recently introduced flexibilities for universal credit payments, and will she consider implementing Scotland’s model down here, especially as her colleague in the Scottish Parliament, Adam Tomkins, has said he is “very much in favour” of them?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The underlying principle of how we get people into work is working right the way across the United Kingdom. It is working in Scotland, and that is correct. Equally, we agree with giving extra powers to devolved Governments, and Scotland has the right to do things in its own way. As we pointed out earlier, however, some of the changes taken on board in Scotland have actually resulted in slower payment to people who need their benefits.