I beg to move,
That this House
has considered universal credit split payments.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Universal credit has been slammed by charities, experts, politicians from both sides of the House, and—most importantly—people living and suffering in the system. Just today, we heard from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown about the failures of universal credit and how it pushes more people into poverty, but today I want to focus on automatic split payments.
I firmly believe that it is a matter of human rights for all women—for all people—to be entitled to financial independence. The Equality and Human Rights Commission agrees, but the Government do not seem to. This year, I met the Employment Minister, Alok Sharma, to talk about universal credit. In that meeting, I asked him about automatic split payments, but I was told they were not going to happen. I was disappointed by that response, which is why I am glad to have secured today’s debate to raise the issue and add the voices of some of the people I have been speaking to. I hope that I will get some answers from the Minister and that he will take away some of the issues that I raise.
First, as I said, I believe that this is a human rights issue. When couples work, they do not get their wages paid into a single account, so why should welfare payments be any different? It seems like an oddly backward system. Under the current system, universal credit payments for a household are paid into a single bank account or joint account. Recipients of the joint award are required to nominate who receives that payment at the outset of the claim. For much of this debate, I will refer to women being able to have financial independence, but of course the policy will affect men too. The policy is not that the man automatically receives the payment; however, it will mainly affect women, which is why most of my comments will refer to women.
A report by the Scottish charity Engender pointed out that the policy
“does not account for the fact that financial decision-making takes place within the context of gendered power dynamics. The majority of jointly awarded ‘out of work’
benefits are claimed by men and assumptions that couples own, access and control joint banks accounts on an equal basis are unfounded.”