I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms for securing this important question.
This Government are “irrational” and they are “unlawful”. Those are not my words, but those of Lady Justice Rose, who delivered the verdict in this week’s Court of Appeal decision against the Department of Work and Pensions. Reading that decision, there is really only one question to ask: what on earth were Ministers doing fighting this case for so many years, only to be told by the Court of Appeal something that seems to most people a matter of basic common sense?
If universal credit cannot cope with the date when people are paid and the impact of bank holidays and weekends on that payment date, the solution should always have been to change how the system works, not to persist with something that leaves thousands of people with wildly fluctuating payments from month to month. I have a constituent affected, Mr Speaker, and the first time I saw the problem in my constituency surgery in Stalybridge, I could not believe that the regulations would work the way they do.
This issue goes to the heart of the problems with universal credit. Time and time again we are told by Ministers that universal credit is more flexible, that it is more agile and that it can be adapted to meet new requirements and respond to problems that are identified. Yet when it comes to making seemingly simple changes such as these, claimants are faced with a rigid, unbending, uncaring response.
The Government always seem unwilling to listen to the experiences of the people who actually use the system. I ask the Minister, first, how much public money has the Department has wasted fighting the case? Secondly, I welcome the Minister’s statement that the Government now accept this decision, so how, and how quickly, will the universal credit regulations be changed to accommodate the ruling? Thirdly, do the Government accept that four single mums should not have to go to the Court of Appeal to be listened to by their own Government? Will the Department acknowledge that there is an overwhelming need to recognise the lived experiences of people who are actually in receipt of universal credit and review a whole range of policies, including the five-week wait, the frequency of payments and how the initial assessment period works, so that we can then get a social security system that is fair and effective and works the way that it should?