The regulations were laid before the House on
May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on her well deserved return to the Front Bench? Croydon South is one of the constituencies with the highest level of universal credit roll-out, at 43%, and in general it is helping people back into work. There are, however, some technical anomalies relating to the timing of the assessment period as people come off work and into benefits or where they receive two salary payments in the same assessment period. Will the Secretary of State look into that particular anomaly and, if appropriate, make some small technical adjustments?
I have a number of matters that I will be looking into, having taken on this important new role. My hon. Friend raises an important point. I would point out to him that universal credit is successfully a dynamic assessment, so if somebody is paid twice during one month, the benefit payments will reflect that and then be adjusted the following month, but I am quite prepared to look at any issues he wants to bring me.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his welcome. I share his view that it is vital that as universal credit is rolled out, we learn from any errors and adjust it, to ensure that it properly serves the people it is intended for. Of course I will look into that case—I saw the report—and, if appropriate, come back to him.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her position. I will ask her an easy question. The Government will bring forward regulations on the migration of beneficiaries of the existing benefits to universal credit. Will she not bring forward the debate on those regulations until we have received the Select Committee report and the Social Security Advisory Committee has had another chance to look at the Government’s important amendments?
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has properly badged that as an easy question. I will have to take a look at that and come back to him, I am afraid.
In Hull, we have the amazing Welfare Rights service, which gives free and impartial advice to the people of Hull, but one of its concerns at the moment is a decision to move all universal support to the citizens advice bureau, which will take funding away from fantastic services such as Welfare Rights. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how giving the money to the CAB will have a negative unintended consequence on our wonderful Welfare Rights service in Hull?
I am very interested in responding to specific cases such as the one the hon. Lady raises. It is important that we provide the additional service. That is why we are working with Citizens Advice to provide a consistent service, but certainly she should come to the Department and meet either me or the Minister to discuss that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend and neighbour back to the Front Bench, and I pay tribute to her predecessor, whom I enjoyed working for over many months. The Secretary of State will be well aware of Hastings Direct, a company that employs her constituents and mine. Will she pay credit to that company for holding a universal credit surgery with our jobcentre teams, which has helped people to find more access to benefits? One couple with a young child found that they were entitled to an extra £600 per month. Does that not show that universal credit works as a signpost, to help people into the benefits structure and increase their earnings?
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for raising the important work that Hastings Direct has done. It is a really good example of a public-private partnership making sure that the benefits of universal credit are set out for employers in an environment in which the employer and the employed can work closely together to get the best outcome.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to her place. Her predecessor suggested that a range of expert charities had welcomed the Chancellor’s intervention on universal credit, when in actual fact they wanted him to go further—much further. This new Secretary of State wields significant power, more than any of her five predecessors in the past three years, by virtue of the Prime Minister’s precarious position. Will she use that power to listen to those expert charities and halt universal credit until it is fixed?
I would not want to overstate what the hon. Gentleman calls my power, but I am certainly going to be listening very carefully. Part of the benefit of the universal credit roll-out will be making sure we get the expert guidance from the people who have been working in this field for many years, and we will certainly be doing that.
The report of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said, when asked about the problems that universal credit claimants are facing, that:
“Government ministers were…entirely dismissive”.
Thus far, the Government have been determined to press ahead with the next phase of the roll-out, despite clear warnings from over 80 organisations working with disabled people who will be affected that many people could fall out of the social security system altogether and be in risk of destitution. Will the new Secretary of State end the Government’s state of denial, scrap the managed migration regulations and stop the roll-out of universal credit?
I have seen the report by the rapporteur—I read it over the weekend—and I must say that I was disappointed, to say the least, by the extraordinary political nature of his language. We on the Conservative Benches will always engage with professionals, experts and non-governmental organisations—we are not so proud that we do not think we can learn as we try to adjust universal credit for the benefit of everybody—but that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and actually discredited a lot of what he was saying. We look forward to working with experts in the area to make sure that we get the right outcome for the people whom we want to look after.