Universal Credit

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons on 18th March 2019.

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Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

What steps she has taken to ensure that universal credit is tailored to individual claimants’ needs.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness

What steps she has taken to ensure that universal credit is tailored to individual claimants’ needs.

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

Under universal credit, our work coaches provide vital one-to-one support to all claimants. Work coaches receive appropriate training to ensure that they can offer support to claimant groups with a variety of characteristics.

Photo of Mary Robinson Mary Robinson Conservative, Cheadle

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Will he say what support he is giving to people in my constituency to help them back into work?

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

I thank my hon. Friend and her parliamentary office for engaging with their local jobcentre in Stockport. I know that she has visited it and seen the one-to-one support provided. She asked for a specific example; in the past week, Stockport jobcentre has been working with claimants to prepare them for a sector-based work academy opportunity with the NHS, which will lead to 20 guaranteed interviews.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness

I have seen the positive effect that the roll-out of universal credit has had in the jobcentres in both Boston and Skegness, but it remains the case that some applicants’ assessment is overturned on appeal. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to get this right first time more often, and can he tell me what he is doing to make that happen?

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

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. He will know that earlier this month, the Secretary of State announced a range of measures to better support people with disabilities and health conditions, which of course included exploring whether we can improve the mandatory reconsideration process to reduce the volumes of cases going to appeal.

Photo of Frank Field Frank Field Chair, Work and Pensions Committee

When I last read the claimant commitment, it was like a prison manual. The duties were all on the claimants’ side, with none on the Department’s. Will the Minister meet me and community groups that have designed a fairer commitment, in which there are duties on the Department to make a success of universal credit, as well as duties on claimants?

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

Of course I am always happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman. I would say, though, that claimant commitments are agreed with claimants. It is work that is done together; that is what is important.

Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Shadow Minister (Wales)

In 2015-16 in Wales, 22,000 households were eligible for homelessness assistance. In 2017, universal credit was introduced. By the time the roll-out finished in 2018, the figure was 28,000—a 30% increase. Will the Minister acknowledge the harm that universal credit has done in promoting homelessness in Wales? What immediate help can he give to those people who are suffering?

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

The hon. Gentleman will know that, across Government, we have a strategy to tackle homelessness. He will also know that we have introduced measures such as the landlord portal, so that payments for rent can be paid directly to social landlords, and that, just a few weeks ago in January, the Secretary of State announced a further change that will allow rents to be paid to private landlords much more easily. We are keen to make sure that this works for everyone.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee

I thank my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State for both coming to my Harlow jobcentre to see how universal credit works in practice. May I ask the Minister specifically what he is doing to help single parents who are moving on to universal credit?

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

My right hon. Friend is a huge champion for his constituents. He is extremely well regarded in the jobcentre, interacting with constituents and indeed with those working there. The Secretary of State has already referred to the fact that, from 1 April, we will be increasing work allowances by £1,000.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Four single mothers won a legal challenge against the Department for Work and Pensions in January because their universal credit payments did not take into account the way in which their incomes changed from month to month, yet the Government decided to apply for permission to appeal. This was turned down, with the judge saying that the way in which the Secretary of State had interpreted and applied the legislation

“was not only wrong as a matter of language, it produces absurd results”.

Why did the Government choose to spend public money seeking to appeal the original decision, and what are they going to do now to address this grotesque injustice?

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

As the hon. Lady will know, we are considering this case, so it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage.