My constituency has been operating the universal credit full service since January this year, so I like to think that I know something about what is being delivered at a grassroots level and the effect it is having on my constituents who claim it.
Let me begin by saying that UC is not perfect, but nor is any benefits system that we have ever had in this country. UC replaced a legacy system that was deeply flawed and offered no incentive for people to work. It is true to say that despite a number of improvements that have been made to UC since its roll-out started, it still has a number of faults, which I will come to later. However, it is certainly not the disaster caricatured by right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. For some time, the Labour party has been busy whipping up opposition to UC, criticising it at every opportunity. These continual criticisms are not only a metaphorical two-fingered insult to the incredibly hard-working staff in my local DWP offices—they are delivering an excellent service to my constituents—but are misleading the public and frightening some very vulnerable people.
Of course, the introduction of any system can be problematic. I, too, had concerns about how it would affect people in my area when it was rolled out, so I visited my local jobcentres and sat down with the staff to go through their plans with them to ensure that none of the claimants moving from the legacy system to UC would be disadvantaged. I was impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm of the staff and was satisfied that they would be prioritising the most vulnerable claimants.
At the time, I urged staff to contact me should they come into contact with anybody they were unable to help because of the system, and I promised to take up those problems with DWP ministers. No such problems have been referred to me by the jobcentres.