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Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:40 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Labour, East Ham 2:40 pm, 17th October 2018

The hon. Lady makes an interesting suggestion, and I hope that her Front-Bench colleagues will listen to it. We certainly need urgent change on this point.

Ministers have, perhaps understandably, developed a tin ear to the voices that they should have been listening to over the past eight years, as the warnings about what they were getting into were being sounded. They have not been listening to those warnings, but I hope that they are at least listening to the Residential Landlords Association. They might have heard Paul Cunningham, the chair of Great Yarmouth Landlords Association, on the radio last week, as I did. He said that the majority of landlords in Great Yarmouth were now unwilling to let property to universal credit claimants because they inevitably got into arrears with their rent. He said:

“It is a social experiment that’s gone wrong”.

Of the Department for Work and Pensions, he said:

“They remain in denial about the system”.

His concluding point was that

“it doesn’t make business sense to let a property to a tenant who has no idea of when their claim is going to be processed or how much money they are going to get, and who will invariably end up in arrears”.

That is the reality of the experience of private landlords, let alone the organisations representing claimants that have been making submissions to the Government.

Among the many representations that the Government have received about managed migration, they will have seen the report prepared by the Resolution Foundation, and I hope that they have looked at it carefully. A lot of the submissions expressed deep foreboding about where we are heading with the managed migration programme. The Resolution Foundation made the following recommendation, which I commend to Ministers:

“The managed migration should only begin when the DWP has shown service levels meet a standard agreed with external experts including SSAC”— the Social Security Advisory Committee

“and the Work and Pensions Committee. We suggest this should be that 90 per cent of new claims are paid in full and on time”.

The recommendation—an excellent one—is that managed migration should not commence until that level of service can be achieved, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to that when he winds up. I commend that idea to him.

It is clear that we are heading into very difficult territory if this goes ahead on the current basis, as is still likely. The Conservative party has been warned about what happens to parties when they go ahead with such projects, given the prospects for universal credit. There is now, however, a chance—there is a moment here—for Ministers to fix these problems. They could take the necessary action; the Chancellor could do so in the Budget on Monday week. I urge them to stop the roll-out until these problems are fixed and not to press ahead in the way that is being proposed. Universal credit was a perfectly sensible idea. Unfortunately, its implementation has been very badly handled. The problems went right back to the start, when the July 2010 Green Paper stated:

“The IT changes that would be necessary to deliver”— universal credit—

“would not constitute a major IT project.”

How wrong they were, sadly.