Welfare System: Moving into Work/ Extending Working Hours

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 12:00 am, 19th November 2018

What steps she is taking to ensure that the welfare system rewards people (a) moving into work and (b) extending their working hours.

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I want to start by thanking my right hon. Friend for the engagement and support that she gives to her local jobcentre. As I have noted, we recently announced in the Budget a £1,000 increase in work allowances. We also have the single taper to ensure that claimants are better off working, and working more. Evidence also shows an increase in earnings for those in work and on universal credit by an average of £600 a year.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Can the Minister confirm that claimants on universal credit are more likely to move into work and more likely to make progress towards longer hours in work under this system, compared with the old system that we inherited from Labour?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Under the legacy benefits system, around 1.4 million people spent almost a decade trapped on benefits instead of being helped into work, and much of that time was under the last Labour Government. Under universal credit, people get into work faster, they stay in work longer and, very importantly, they earn more.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

May I say to Government Front Benchers that Christmas is coming and the goose is not going to get very fat for many of our constituents? The new Secretary of State lives in a more normal constituency than the Chancellor or the Prime Minister. Will she think about Christmas and what universal credit is doing to so many of her constituents and mine?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

As we have pointed out, under universal credit people are able to get the one-to-one support with their work coach that was not possible under the legacy benefits system. Again, I reach out to the hon. Gentleman. If he has concerns in his own constituency, I am very happy to have a discussion with him and his local jobcentre, because we want to support absolutely every single person who is in the welfare system.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

The welfare system undoubtedly encourages our constituents into work and rewards them in work, but the system does not always capture that because of the anomaly of the claimant count being used as a proxy for unemployment, whereas in fact many people who are on universal credit are working. What can the Minister do to try to improve the statistical way in which this is recorded?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend raises an important question. As he will know, we had a consultation on this particular point. We have published our findings, and I would be very happy to share those with him. Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to write to all colleagues setting out the changes that we are proposing.

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

Is it not obvious how few questions we have had from Conservative Members today on some of the biggest changes to welfare reform in a generation? I have raised with Ministers many times now the fact that those who are getting a change of circumstance as they move on to universal credit do not have the transitional protections at the moment. Ministers keep telling me that they do, but they do not. I have had universal credit in my constituency for a long time, and I could give them a catalogue of cases where people are worse off on universal credit as a result of this. With the new leadership at the Department, can the tin ear now be opened a little?

Photo of Alok Sharma Alok Sharma The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

If the hon. Lady is keen on protecting people who move from legacy benefits on to universal credit under the managed migration process, I would invite her to vote for the regulations, with me and my colleagues, when they come through Parliament later this year.