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Child Poverty in Scotland — [Sir David Crausby in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:46 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:46 pm, 30th October 2019

I look closely at all elements within my portfolio. Universal credit is probably the largest element of my portfolio, newly added in the most recent reshuffle. On the first assessment period, it is important to stress that it is not a loan but an advance of the first indicative award, and it is interest-free and repayable over a 12-month period. We are already going further, because that will go up to 16 months, and I am exploring ways in which we could potentially increase that further. At present, around 60% of people take that up. The issue the hon. Lady raises is often raised with me by a number of the stakeholders and organisations that the Department works closely with. I am looking at it, of course, but fundamentally we can have a system based either on advances or on arrears.

We now also have a two-week roll-on of housing benefit for those moving on to universal credit, and as of 2021 that will include a two-week run-on of income support, jobseeker’s allowance and employment support allowance. This month we are reducing the maximum level of deductions from 40% to 30%. We are listening and we do make changes, but those changes can only be made within fiscal events. Of course, as I mentioned at the beginning, it will come as no surprise to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran to hear that I am looking at a number of measures ahead of the next fiscal event to improve universal credit, because we do listen to Members from across the House and to the stakeholders that feed into the Department.

I am conscious of the time, and I want the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill to have an opportunity to wind up the debate, so I will conclude. I reaffirm our view that the long-term approach that we are taking is the right one if we are to deliver lasting change. However, we are not complacent; this is an area of real focus for me and the Department. The Government believe that work provides economic independence, pride in having a job and improved wellbeing. I look forward to continuing to work with colleagues from across the House, the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations and charities to tackle poverty in all its forms.