Alok Sharma responds to an Opposition Day debate on Universal Credit

11th July 2018

Alok Sharma outlines the advantages of Universal Credit which simplifies the benefits system and provided one-to-one support from work coaches.

I believe that each of us in this House, whatever our political persuasion, came into politics to help build a fairer society. Indeed, that sense of fairness is part of the very DNA of the British people, and the desire for fairness extends to our welfare system—a system where we support the vulnerable, those looking to get into work and those wanting to increase their hours. That is precisely what universal credit does. It takes a complicated benefits system and simplifies it. Under this system, the claimant is provided with one-to-one support for the first time by their work coach. This support is making a real difference to progress into employment and is increasing people’s earnings.

We have published research that shows that, once people are on universal credit, they get into work fast and stay in work longer and that they will be earning more. Just last month, we published a survey that showed that the percentage of those in employment almost doubles between the point of making the claim and nine months into universal credit. For every extra hour worked, people get to keep more of their own money. Under universal credit, work absolutely pays.

The Opposition have said that we are ploughing ahead with the universal credit roll-out. This argument simply does not hold water. We are listening, learning and improving, getting the delivery of universal credit right, with a roll-out taking place at a measured rate. Let me give an example. In the autumn Budget, we announced a £1.5 billion package of extra support for claimants. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out precisely what was in that package. We listened; we acted; and we helped claimants.

I will not give way.

What did the Opposition do? They cynically voted against the regulations that allowed the £1.5 billion of support to be made available to claimants. I get that the Opposition are there to oppose, but that should not be at the cost of helping the very people they claim to represent. Opposition Members have raised individual cases of claimants who have been suffering hardship. How many of those hon. Members have looked those individual claimants in the eye and explained why they voted to deny them the help and support that they needed? [Interruption.]

Order. The Minister has listened to all the questions and is now answering them, so he should not be shouted at by hon. Members on either side of the House.

Let us talk about the help that the work coaches are giving. The NAO report says:

“A survey of live service claimants found that claimant satisfaction levels were similar to those on legacy benefits and in our visits to jobcentres we observed good relationships between work coaches and claimants.”

The support is available, and it is working and helping people to get into work.


Will the Minister give way?

No, I will not give way.

Thanks to the policies of this Conservative Government, we are at record levels of employment. Once universal credit is fully rolled out, we will support another 200,000 people into work. The tone and the wording of Labour’s motion today has been disappointing and, frankly, ill-judged in personally attacking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

My right hon. Friend set out in her speech some of the positive changes that she has made, with the support of the whole brilliant DWP team. She has instigated these changes since coming into her role. Labour Members should actually be thanking her for her proactivity, not seeking to censure her today. They have offered absolutely no solutions today—just scaremongering. Their only answer appears to be to let people languish in a legacy system that effectively washes its hands of them.

When we go forward with universal credit, of course we are going to listen. But at the heart of universal credit there lies a very simple but incredibly powerful idea—that we should help people to achieve their full potential, and that is precisely what this Government are going to do.


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