Universal Credit

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect of the two-child limit in universal credit on families in Northern Ireland.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Both the Secretary of State and I were delighted by the recent announcement by the Work and Pensions Secretary that parents who had their third child before the two-child limit was introduced in April 2017 would not face the cap. This will help thousands of families across the UK, including Northern Ireland. The administration and implementation of universal credit is a devolved matter, but Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities knows of no complaints, issues or problems experienced by claimants in the operation of the two-child policy.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

The cruelty of this policy, as was confirmed by the UN rapporteur, is most acute in Northern Ireland, where families are bigger and abortion is illegal, which has been condemned by the Supreme Court. Surely in the case of non-consensual conception, women who seek to exercise the already humiliating rape clause will risk the prosecution of professionals who assist under section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967. Can we have some clarity on this human rights double whammy?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Lady is right to raise that concern, which has been raised on previous occasions because of the depth of worry. I would just reassure her that in the 52 years since section 5 was passed, there have been no prosecutions for failure to report a rape in Northern Ireland. I would add that an outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland said that it is very unlikely that anyone will face prosecution in future.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Shadow Minister (Northern Ireland)

The Minister appears to be presenting some new legislation to us. We are not familiar with the information he has just given, and I hope we can have a bit more detail.

I rise in sorrow and in anger to say that the roll-out of universal credit has had an unmitigated devastating impact on the poorest people in Northern Ireland. If universal credit is not good enough for the Minister’s constituents or my constituents, why is it good enough for Northern Ireland, where the level of long-term unemployment is twice the national average? Does he believe that making the worst-off worse off is acceptable?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I politely disagree with the hon. Gentleman, not least because unemployment in Northern Ireland has been falling steadily, which is one of the huge success stories of Northern Ireland’s economic progress since the troubles. The previous Assembly introduced some rather important legislation, which is still in operation, that mitigates some of the local concerns about the operation of universal credit in Northern Ireland.