Alok Sharma makes a statement to the House of Commons on the Government’s plans for the managed migration of people claiming legacy benefits to universal credit.
Universal credit is a vital reform that overhauls a legacy system that trapped people out of work; with six different benefits, administered by three different Government Departments, it was utterly confusing for claimants. All new claimants now receive universal credit. In the future, we will move claimants who have not changed circumstances from legacy benefits to universal credit in an approach known as managed migration. It is right that the Government should seek to align provision for all, in order to eventually operate one welfare system. The Department has long planned to initially support 10,000 people through this process in a test phase, before increasing the number of those migrated. The first phase will give us an opportunity to learn how to provide the best support, while keeping Parliament fully informed of our approach. Universal credit is proceeding as planned, with no change to the timetable of completing managed migration by December 2023.
Over the weekend, it was widely reported in the media that the Government had decided to ask for powers from Parliament for a managed migration pilot to move 10,000 people from legacy benefits to universal credit, rather than the managed migration as a whole of about 3 million people. One headline read:
“Threat of revolt forces rethink of ‘catastrophic’ universal credit”.
The Minister’s response does nothing to clarify the situation.
This is a matter of very real concern. Under so-called managed migration, the Government intend to switch off the vital financial support received by millions of people and leave them to apply for universal credit. There are very real fears that vulnerable people will be put at risk of falling out of the social security system altogether. Over a third of these people are currently claiming employment and support allowance because they are ill and disabled. In some cases, they will have been claiming it for a long time and may find it extremely difficult to make a claim for universal credit. A policy change of this significance, which was indicated in the press, clearly should have been announced in the House but the Government failed to do so. The Secretary of State failed to clarify the situation when she was asked to do so yesterday.
Will the Minister—it is disappointing that the Secretary of State is not in her place—tell the House whether the Government intend to ask Parliament initially for powers to carry out a pilot for the managed migration of 10,000 people or for the process as a whole, which would affect nearly 3 million people? Will the Government pledge, as they did before Christmas, to debate the regulations, in whatever form they take, on the Floor of the House? If the Government seek powers for a pilot in the first instance, will the Government address the fundamental concern of numerous voluntary organisations that nobody’s claim for a legacy benefit will be ended until they have either made a new claim for universal credit or have said that they do not wish to do so?
The result of putting back the timetable for managed migration, as the Government already did in the Budget, will mean that many more people will transfer to universal credit through natural migration. Can the Minister tell us how many people the Government estimate will move to universal credit through natural migration, and what savings that will make for the Treasury?
The Government announced in June that those in receipt of severe disability premium would not have to transfer to universal credit without transitional protection. Will the Government compensate those who have already done so and missed out as a result? What action will the Government take to ensure that those affected are fully compensated? The Government have chosen to shift the burden of what should be the Government’s responsibility to ensure continuity of social security on to claimants, forcing them to apply for universal credit. Will the Minister explain precisely what the Government are going to do and will they stop the roll-out of universal credit?
May I just clarify, if it was not clear yesterday when we had oral questions, that the Government had previously committed to hold a debate on the affirmative regulations in relation to the managed migration regulations? That will happen in due course, and we will debate them as and when parliamentary time allows. We will of course, as we have set out previously, meet our commitment to severe disability premium recipients. We will also ensure that the start date for the July 2019 test phase involving 10,000 people is voted on.
The hon. Lady raised a number of issues. She raised the issue of vulnerable people. I hope she will have seen our response to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s recommendations, in which we set out very clearly—I am sure we will have a chance to talk about them—how we will be looking to move people across, working with stakeholders to ensure protections are in place for the vulnerable.
The hon. Lady talked about voluntary organisations. We will be working with voluntary organisations. We have already had meetings with 70 stakeholders and we have plans for further discussions. We want to design the process together with them. The timetable is as set out. We will have a pilot phase starting in July 2019. In 2020, we will then move on to volume migration.
I want to end on one point, which is that every time the hon. Lady gets up she talks about stopping the roll-out of universal credit. To be clear, we have now rolled it out across the country. If she wants to support people, she should vote with us when we bring forward support for the most vulnerable. She voted against the £1.5 billion of support. She also voted against the £4.5 billion. When the regulations are debated, she should support them and not oppose them. Let me clarify once more that we will hold a debate on affirmative regulations in relation to the managed migration regulations.
If the Government do proceed on a pilot basis with moving people across from existing benefits, that would be extremely sensible. Does my hon. Friend share my experience of talking to job advisers and other staff in jobcentres? They are very enthusiastic about universal credit, as opposed to previous benefit systems, precisely because it helps them to better help other people into work in ways they were not able to do before. Can he reassure me that for all the issues with transition, which we all know are there, the Government are as committed as ever to making sure this new and better benefit system is rolled out fully?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the experience of colleagues on the Government Benches when we talk to people—[Interruption.] Well, I would just say to the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) that she ought to go out there and talk to work coaches. I would say that to all colleagues, because in my experience they are telling me that for the first time they are doing what they came into the Department for Work and Pensions to do, which is to provide one-to-one support rather than having to explain an incredibly complicated legacy benefit system where people have not been able to claim all the money due to them.
Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. I commend Labour for securing it. It is important because at the weekend, reading any of the papers, it would have seemed that everything had changed in the minds of Ministers on universal credit, with the Work and Pension Secretary’s apparent U-turn. In actual fact, however, nothing had changed. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here to respond, given that the misleading headlines were in her name.
The Government were of course quite happy to ride that wave of publicity, but yesterday at DWP questions the scale of that so-called U-turn became clear. We now know that at present there are no plans to make any changes to universal credit, which is what everyone is really interested in.
Delaying the vote on the managed migration of people from legacy benefits to universal credit is a small acceptance from the Government that things may not be well with universal credit. We have six years of evidence and lobbying to show the Secretary of State that. She knows she cannot get away with kicking the can down the road. She knows that changes need to be made and that what is on the line is not just her credibility but the lives of recipients who desperately rely on that support. After all, we never know when it might be us relying on that safety net.
My question to the Minister is clear and unambiguous, and I hope he will be, too. Will he commit, with the Secretary of State, to putting pressure on the Chancellor to release the money to repair universal credit, starting with ending the two-child policy, stopping the benefits freeze and overhauling the punitive sanctions regime?
The hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood) asked earlier why the Secretary of State is not here. The reason is that she is in Cabinet. Her commitment is absolutely clear. She has visited jobcentres and talked to stakeholders and organisations that care about getting universal credit right, so there should be no indication in the House that she is not taking her duties incredibly seriously. She is hugely committed to this.
As I said, earlier this year, we brought forward £1.5 billion of funding to help people by allowing advances of up to 100% on day one if individuals require that and having a two-week run-on for housing benefit, and another £4.5 billion was announced in the Budget. This is all about making a difference and helping the most vulnerable in our society—something the Opposition should welcome.
We have had a very successful roll-out in Sudbury. I urge my hon. Friend not to pause the overall roll-out of the system. I well remember as an employer the problems of staff who refused to work more than 16 hours under the old system. He is doing the right thing. If this takes a bit longer to introduce, personally, I will welcome that.
I have set out our timetable, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that the legacy benefits system is incredibly complicated. I mentioned that we have £2.4 billion under-claimed under the legacy benefits system because it is so complicated. That of course is changing under universal credit.
Will the Minister be up front with the House and admit that universal credit has been a disaster right from the beginning? It has been delayed, it has cost money and the Government are having to delay it further because they are worried about its effect. In Wallasey, there was a 39% increase in food bank usage after the roll-out of universal credit. It is causing real distress, and there are still £4.7 billion of benefit cuts to be administered between now and 2020. Will he admit that this is a rolling disaster area and commit to properly review it and do the right thing?
Perhaps the hon. Lady was not listening. I have already set out the extra funding we have brought forward. I wish she would support this. Of course, as we go through this process we learn and make changes as appropriate, but the reality is that we now have a much simpler system, under which people are able to get the one-to-one support they were not able to get before. She should welcome that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it was necessary in the roll-out of universal credit to learn the lessons of the failed introduction of tax credits, which left many people on low incomes right across the country in a big-bang situation where they were faced with large debts? Does he agree that, contrary to that approach, this Government have taken time and tested the system as they have gone? They continue to do that with the test involving 10,000 people, which I strongly support. I suggest they continue that approach.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his support. We have always said there will be a test phase, and that is what we will have. He is absolutely right to highlight that the introduction of tax credits was not a success, whatever Opposition Members may say. It is absolutely right that we listen and learn, and that is precisely what we will do as we go through the test phase.
Tax credits were a great success. In answering my question yesterday about the five-week wait before claimants are entitled to their benefit, the Minister pointed out that advances are available. That is true, but of course that means people are indebted to his Department right at the start of their claim. Press reports at the weekend stated that the roll-out would be paused because of worries about growing indebtedness. Are Ministers concerned about rising indebtedness among benefit claimants because of universal credit?
As I said yesterday, I know the right hon. Gentleman takes these issues extremely seriously, but so do we. That is why we introduced a change last year to ensure that advances of up to 100% are available on day one. Some 60% of those who come on to universal credit now take advantage of those advances. There is also the two-week run-on for housing benefit and, as he knows, we set out in the Budget further measures, which will come into place in 2020, when those moving across from out-of-work DWP legacy benefits will also get run-on.
We must not lose sight of the fact that inevitably there are problems during the transition phase, but I draw the Minister’s attention to an email I received yesterday from Brian Herzog, one of my constituents, who wrote that
“my mental health did a complete nose dive and it was Universal Credit that saved me in so many ways.”
“Please trust me…it’s a great system. I’d be happy to be used as an example of why it does work”.
Well, I have done that. Does the Minister agree that we must do all we can to ensure that the transition phase moves smoothly and to support the staff who do an excellent job of delivering universal credit, but we must not lose sight of its successes for the vast majority?
I thank my hon. Friend, who works incredibly hard for his constituents. He is right to highlight that universal credit works extremely well for the vast majority of people, and of course we wish his constituent well, but I accept that we need to get this right for everyone. That is why, when it comes to managed migration, we will have a test phase.
Will the Minister clarify whether the regulations he proposes to bring forward before July will cover only those encompassed by the pilot, or whether they will be the comprehensive managed migration regulations? Will they also deal with the severe disability premium?
The hon. Lady takes a great deal of interest in this area, so she will have seen the regulations that are currently before the House. If I may repeat myself, we have committed to holding a debate on any affirmative regulations, we have said we will meet our commitment to those in receipt of severe disability premium, and we have said we will ensure that the regulations are in place so we can start the test phase in July 2019.
In Brentwood, the roll-out of universal credit has been very successful thus far. I congratulate the Government on their use of test and learn to ensure that universal credit learns lessons that previous benefit systems did not. Will the Minister commit to sharing with the House the details of the pilot of 10,000? When does he expect to be able to do that?
My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about these matters, as a former member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions. We are in the process of designing the pilot. As I have said very clearly, we are having discussions with key stakeholders to make sure we get it right. Clearly, there will be plenty of opportunity in the future to debate it. Let me be very clear that we will, at the end of that phase, set out how it went.
Many of my constituents have been left without money and food—effectively destitute—for extended periods during the roll-out of universal credit. Can the Minister guarantee that those of my constituents due to be migrated on to universal credit, whether as part of a pilot or more generally, will not be left in this condition?
We want to make sure that the process of moving on to universal credit works for everyone. I am sorry if I repeat myself when I talk about the extra £1.5 billion. I said earlier that we brought that forward earlier this year—I meant, of course, during 2018. I have talked about the extra money made available in the Budget as well. Of course, we want to get this right in order to help all our constituents. That is what we are here for: to ensure we help people, but also to help people to progress into work.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in my constituency, which neighbours his, our feedback on universal credit has been generally positive, and would he accept my appreciation for the positive response that he and his colleagues have given to me when I have raised implementation problems with him as we have gone along?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind comments. I hope it is clear to colleagues on both sides of the House that my door is open. When colleagues come with individual cases, I do take them up. I am always open and ready to have meetings on individual cases, and I will continue to be ready to do that.
When universal credit was initially rolled out some time ago, people living in the highlands were the unwitting guinea pigs in this experiment. Now that some of the flaws in universal credit are becoming apparent, is there not a case for financial compensation for these people for all they have undergone?
As I have said—I am sorry if I have to keep repeating myself—we want to make sure that universal credit works for absolutely everyone. Wherever we sit in the House, we want our welfare system to work for everyone. We will continue to work with stakeholders and others to make sure we get this absolutely right.
Piloting managed migration for universal credit is an entirely sensible approach, as it means that lessons can be learned, but can the Minister assure me that, when learning those lessons, he will consider the evidence from charities and other experts so that the best possible evidence base is available and we can have the best possible system?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. We talk about stakeholders. We held an event for 70 stakeholders in October. We are working on work streams with stakeholders looking at how to create a successful claimant experience, what the role of delivery partners and external organisations might be in migration, how we communicate and engage with claimants, and how we identity and support our most vulnerable claimants. That work is going on right now. We will continue to do that to get this right.
The Minister says he wants to make sure universal credit works for absolutely everyone, but there are still 2.4 million households that will be more than £2,000 a year worse off under universal credit, of which 1.6 million will be moving on to universal credit in the next 12 months, under natural migration. What will the Government do to support those people and make sure it works for them?
As the hon. Lady will know, once universal credit is rolled out, there will be £2 billion more in the system than under the legacy welfare system. I know she cares deeply about these matters, but if she wants to support her constituents, she should have voted to support the measures we introduced to help people—I have talked about the extra money. Unfortunately, she has not been able to support them.
How does the generosity of the Minister’s arrangements compare internationally?
Different countries will have different welfare arrangements. It is important for us to have a welfare system that not only provides support but is sustainable and ultimately helps people into work. That the employment rate now is at a joint record high is testament to the work the Government have done, including on welfare reform.
The problem is that the individual cases keep coming and coming because of the Government’s failures on universal credit. A constituent contacted me because of an issue about early payment from her employer before Christmas. She was forced to go to a food bank—over Christmas! Surely, the Minister does not think that that situation is acceptable.
As I have said, we want to get this right for everyone, and where there are individual cases, of course we will take them up, but the hon. Gentleman seems to imply that, under the legacy benefits system, the world was entirely rosy. He and I know, as Members of Parliament, that the legacy benefits system is inferior to universal credit.
I welcome the tone of the response from the Minister so far—it is always good to see him at the Dispatch Box—but could he confirm how the Department will go about selecting the 10,000 to take part in the pilot, how it will monitor it and how it will report back on its evaluation?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. During the test period, we will be testing a number of approaches to moving claimants on to universal credit safely and in the most effective way. This will include testing a non-mandatory approach, where claimants will be invited to go through the process. We will be testing claimants on all benefits and in a range of circumstances to make sure that we move all claimants on to universal credit safely.
The reality for many people in my constituency is that universal credit is plunging them deeper into poverty. What specifically will the Minister do about this, and when?
I visited Liverpool last year and talked to colleagues in jobcentres who told me that universal credit was working well, that they supported it and that it enabled them to offer help. The hon. Lady talks about providing support for individuals. The best support we can provide is helping them to get into work, and that is what is happening under universal credit.
Universal credit is solving some serious problems in the benefits system. It is helping people to move into work more quickly and, together with the national living wage, is helping to drive down unemployment. The Minister is right to take a cautious approach to rolling out universal credit but, further to the question from the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), can he assure me that he will move as quickly as possible to introduce regulations that solve the problem for people on severe disability premium? I have a constituent whose disabled son has lost money because he has moved local authority. It is obviously an indefensible situation. He will want to fix it. Can he assure me that we will move quickly to solve this problem?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the issue of the recipients of severe disability premium. We recognise that issue, which is why we have committed to putting in place a hard gateway so that people are not naturally migrated across.
If there is to be a pilot, will the Minister look again at the advice of Sir Ian Diamond, the chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee, who says it is not necessary for all those on legacy benefits to make fresh universal credit claims, which is bound to increase administration costs and undoubtedly will result in some of the most vulnerable losing out on the benefits they are entitled to? He says it is not necessary because the Department already has the key data for most of those claimants.
Of course, we are in regular contact with the Social Security Advisory Committee and the hon. Gentleman will know that in our response to it we highlighted the limitations of pre-population, which I think is what he is talking about. I ask him to look at when we moved people from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance. We did not have all the appropriate information and this led to the Department estimating the need to spend about £1 billion on historical underpayments. We want to ensure we get this right, but of course it is important to build in safeguards, particularly for the vulnerable, and that is what the test phase is all about.
One of the aims of universal credit is to more accurately target financial support to the most vulnerable people, who need it most. As I understand it, when fully rolled out, up to 1 million disabled people will be able to claim something like £100 a month more than they currently receive. Is my understanding correct?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There will be that extra money. As I have said, this is about making sure that we target funds at those who need it most. That is why we introduced changes in work allowances in the Budget, which will make a difference to people with children and, of course, those with disabilities as well.
Will the pilot just move 10,000 people on to the existing system, or will there be meaningful changes before it begins, as requested by the Select Committee and by stakeholders? Will the Minister look at the position of individuals who turn down jobs involving zero-hours contracts, who are liable to be sanctioned under universal credit but would not be sanctioned under legacy benefits?
I am always happy to have a detailed discussion with the hon. Gentleman on any issues, but let me commend to him our response to the Social Security Advisory Committee’s recommendations. As he will see, we have taken on the vast majority of those recommendations—and, of course, we have committed ourselves to working with stakeholders, which we are already doing.
On Friday, it was great to be interviewed by a university student from Corby, Bethany Kilgallon, about universal credit. What message would my hon. Friend want me to pass on to her about the successes of universal credit so far, and the way in which the roll-out will be handled in future?
My hon. Friend has raised a fundamental point. Universal credit replaces a very complicated legacy benefits system, and is ensuring that people get into work faster and stay in work for longer. That, ultimately, is what we should all be trying to do, as well as helping people to progress when they are already in work.
For the record—I know that you are aware of this, Mr Speaker—tax credits lifted 1.1 million children out of poverty, whereas the Government’s policies are set to increase the number of children in poverty by more than 1 million. We know that disabled people who are out of work will be worse off even after the Budget. The High Court decided last summer that transitional protections were needed, and that the Government were acting unlawfully and discriminating against disabled people. The Minister has been asked this three times: when will those transitional protections be put in place?
The hon. Lady talks about poverty. May I point out respectfully to her that since 2010, 1 million fewer people are living in absolute poverty, including 300,000 fewer children? [Interruption.] The hon. Lady may not like the answer, but she cannot argue with the facts. As for the regulations, we have been very clear about them, as was the Secretary of State yesterday.
Happy new year, Mr Speaker.
Five years after the roll-out of universal credit and two years after it was meant to finish, it is costing three times as much as the legacy benefits, and the Government have had to announce a pilot to test whether it even works. Is this not an admission of colossal failure, with equally colossal human and financial costs?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is arguing against our conducting a pilot, but that would be irresponsible. We have always made it clear that we need to get this right, which is why we will organise a pilot.
I was delighted to hear the Minister say that he would listen to what is said about the changes that will have to be made. Does that mean that he will accept the necessity for a guarantee that vulnerable people on existing legacy benefits need not apply, that there will be some way of ensuring that they are being moved successfully on to universal credit before their legacy benefits are stopped, and that someone from the DWP will visit them at home to ensure that they are receiving what they are entitled to, and are completely aware of the changes?
As the hon. Lady will know, home visits are already available under the welfare system and the universal credit arrangements. However, she has raised an important point about the need to ensure that no one who is vulnerable falls through the cracks. We want to ensure that as well, which is why we are working with health charities and others to make certain that we get this absolutely right.
A quarter of households in receipt of universal credit are lone-parent households, and we know that as people move on to universal credit, 50% more of those households will lose rather than gain. Given the tax cuts that the Government have handed out to the richest households, can the Minister give me a single reason why any lone-parent household should be worse off rather than better off? Can he give me a single justification for that?
If the hon. Lady is so keen to support lone-parent households, she should have supported us and voted for the work allowances that we introduced in the Budget.
It has long been the Department’s intention to allow universal credit applications to be made through the medium of Welsh in Welsh-speaking areas, particularly in north and west Wales, but that facility has been denied to people so far by deficiencies in the computer system. What will be the impact of the “managed migration test phase”, restricted to 10,000 claimants, on that rather larger and more long-term policy intention?
I will double-check and write to the hon. Gentleman if I am wrong, but I believe that we have put in place the arrangements required to enable people in certain jobcentres in Wales to communicate in Welsh.
It sounds as if the Minister thinks that all the lessons have been learnt and all the problems with universal credit have been solved, but let me tell him that in Leicester, one of the areas in which the roll-out has occurred later, too many people are still waiting too long. They are getting into debt, and there has been a huge increase in demand for food banks. May I urge the Minister, even before any pilot involving people on existing legacy benefits, to stop and carry out a fundamental review with all the experts and charity groups, so that we can secure the reform that we need and my constituents do not have to fear the future?
Payment timeliness may be one of the issues to which the hon. Lady refers. The position has improved. When people cannot receive their full payments at the end of the first period, it is often because we have been unable to obtain verification because no information on housing or childcare costs has been provided, but support is available in the system. If there are individual cases in which the hon. Lady thinks that things have not gone well, she should come and talk to me: I would be very happy to have that discussion.
Yesterday, during DWP questions, the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) said that he struggled with online applications, which caused some mirth on the Government Benches. May I pursue the question asked by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine)? I tabled some written questions about the number of requests for face-to-face assessment interviews. I was told that since March 2015 there had been 144,000, of which only 308 had been home consultations. Can the Minister explain why so few people have been offered home assessments? If he cannot do so, will he conduct an investigation in the Department to find out why so many sick and disabled people are being denied such assessments?
There are a number of ways in which people can claim universal credit. There is, of course, the online process, and help with that can be provided in jobcentres. There is also the Freephone telephone line, and people can also have appointees. As the hon. Gentleman has said, there are home visits, but, again, I would be happy to discuss the issue with him.
Many people going on to universal credit find it difficult to manage their finances. May I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to local working with credit unions? I am a director of NE First Credit Union for the North East, which offers people simple bank accounts and affordable finance. Would the Minister consider linking credit unions with the DWP so that people can not only receive advice, but stop getting into the hands of loan sharks?
I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that suggestion and see what is possible, but, as he will know, we have a new arrangement with Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland to ensure that advice is given to people to help them as they move on to universal credit. That arrangement will kick off formally in April. We have made £39 million available, and of course we want the process to work well.
The Minister must accept that he is kicking the can down the road and that managed migration is of no comfort to people in Glasgow North who are making new claims, are on a natural migration waiting weeks for the first payment or are subject to the mendacious two-child policy. If the UK Government cannot fix the flaws they themselves admit exist in UC, is it not time to devolve these powers fully to the Scottish Parliament and Government, who will put fairness and dignity at the heart of social security?
I would like to think that I have a good working relationship with my opposite number in the Scottish Government and of course we will continue to work with them on a range of issues. It is important that we get this process right for everyone and that is our intention.
I served in 2011 on the Welfare Reform Bill which paved the way for UC, and it is clear that the questions the Government could not answer then about UC they still cannot answer now, eight years later—and a little humility on the part of the Minister would be very welcome. Does he recognise that managed migration clients will not for the most part be the same as roll-out clients? There will be a higher level of vulnerability, with many people unable—and will continue to be unable—to work because of sickness and disability? What extra provision is he building into the system to make sure even this pilot does not leave people with a debt crisis and at risk of losing their home?
The hon. Lady gets to the point of the pilot phase, as that is precisely what we want to make sure happens: we want to get this right particularly for the most vulnerable. We are working with a range of stakeholders. I set out in an earlier answer the work-streams we are working on, and we will continue to do that until we get this right.
In an area such as mine where UC has already been rolled out, if somebody on legacy benefits who has more than two children reports a change of circumstances, they are told they must migrate on to UC only then to be told that because they have more than two children that migration cannot take place. By the time they have been told that, their housing benefit and council tax benefit and other benefits will have been stopped. It takes weeks to sort that out and real hardship is caused in the meantime. Small wonder therefore that food bank use and indebtedness are rocketing. Can the Minister say plainly that there are practical problems with the current system of roll-out, and what will he do to sort it out?
We have been fixing problems, and we will continue to do that. Again I say—I make this offer in all sincerity, not least because this is how we will learn in this process—that where the hon. Gentleman has a specific case I will be happy to sit down with him and talk it through and see what we can do to make sure that the system works for others who come after his constituent.
The Government always try to individualise our constituents’ problems, but these are systemic flaws in the system. People every single day are made deliberately worse off under this scheme which makes them wait five weeks. Deep design and administrative flaws have been listed exhaustively in numerous reports. Is it acceptable to continuously test and learn on people? Is it acceptable that every single day we have people naturally migrating on to UC, because they are no less vulnerable and deserving of protections than those on managed migration? Will the Minister please halt the natural migration and the managed migration?
The roll-out of UC has already taken place across all jobcentres. UC is continuing; I have set out the timetable, as the Secretary of State did yesterday. But the hon. Lady is right that we need to make sure we get this right and that is why we have the test phase. I am pleased that at least some colleagues on the Opposition Benches have acknowledged that this is an important part of making sure we get this right in terms of managed migration.
There is a fundamental flaw that I think is utterly pernicious in terms of UC—the first five-week wait. I had a constituent in my surgery before Christmas who was in tears, because, she explained, “I have never been in debt in all my life, and now I have had to go into debt, and it is the system that is encouraging me to do that. In fact, I heard the Prime Minister on television last night say that it is a good thing that I can take out a loan which I pay back.” We must stop pushing the poorest people in our country, who are often the proudest people in our country, into debt.
Of course we do not want to push anyone into debt, but may I just be clear that these advances are interest-free, so over a—[Interruption.] Over a 12-month period people will get their monthly payment and then their additional advance which they pay back over that period, and of course we will be extending that to allow people to pay that back over 16 months. Many people have welcomed the advances and now about 60% of those coming on to UC are taking out advances.
Will the Minister look at a serious flaw in debt repayment between legacy systems and the UC system? A constituent of mine has been diligently repaying an historical tax credit debt but that debt also moved when she moved on to UC. HMRC deducted £11 a month, but the DWP wants to take £79.46 from an income of only £317.82 per month after housing costs. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this case and the unfairness in the system, because people cannot live on this amount of money?
Of course I will meet with the hon. Lady, as I have done previously on issues she has raised. As a general rule, one would not expect deductions to be more than 40% of a standard allowance, and of course that figure will come down to 30%.
May I express to the Minister my concern about the worry and anxiety that people face when making UC claims? We had the roll-out in December in Hull. If there is a pilot from the middle of 2019 will some of the pilot numbers come from Hull, and will people in Hull be in any way penalised if they do not make a claim in time?
Of course we want to support people as they come on to UC, whether they are naturally migrating or in the test phase. We have now put in place a provision with Citizens Advice to make sure people are provided with that consistent support across the country and I want that to work well.
My constituent lost his job in October and waited five weeks for his first payment of UC, receiving £149 at the beginning of December, which has to last him until the middle of this month. He received an advance payment of £549.79 in November which he used to pay for his rent. This has been deducted from his future payments, hence causing hardship to him, and the DWP is unable to reduce the repayments during the current assessment period and has not agreed to do so from January. However, he was left over Christmas with no money to live on and no access to other possible funding. What will the Minister do to make the assessment period more flexible in order to protect claimants from suffering such obvious hardship?
The assessment period is five weeks. We of course did away with the seven-day waiting period that was in place previously, and of course 100% advances are available on day one if people require them. The hon. Gentleman raises a detailed individual case, however, and I would be very happy to talk to him about it, perhaps after this urgent question.
Nearly 30% of eligible households in my constituency are already on UC, but many cases that I deal with involve people whose legacy benefit was incorrectly withdrawn and who are then forced to apply for UC and find themselves with a lower award, and there is no transitional support for these people. What will the Minister do to address that? Surely at a minimum they should be allowed to stay on the legacy benefit?
Without knowing the individual cases the hon. Gentleman raises I cannot comment in any detail—[Interruption.] I have been asked to answer on policy, and that is precisely what I am doing. The reality is that we have now rolled out UC across the country, so new claimants or those who have a change of circumstance will move on to UC. But again, I am happy to discuss individual cases.
The regulations that the Government intended to lay did have provision for back payments for those who transitioned through natural migration and lost their entitlement to severe disability premium. Given that both women’s aid organisations in my constituency, Clydebank Women’s Aid and Dumbarton District Women’s Aid, are gravely concerned about the impact of transition not just on those vulnerable women fleeing domestic abuse but those who have children who are disabled, will the Government now bring forward regulations to initiate these back payments and ensure no one loses out in the future? A yes or no answer would be helpful.
I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about this. I assume that he refers to the run-on of the DWP legacy benefits from 2020, and of course this will apply to claimants on managed migration and to those who naturally migrate, provided that they do not have a break in their claim.
Since as far back as 2013, Inverness and then the rest of my constituency suffered through the pilot and on through the full-service roll-out of universal credit. The new year front page of The Inverness Courier newspaper described the rise of poverty in our community, and that was directly attributed to universal credit. Over nearly six years, the UK Government have failed to listen to any of the agencies, the charities, the council or the people who have been affected. What does the Minister say to those people who have suffered directly over all that time from having their plight ignored by this Government?
I have a lot of respect for the hon. Gentleman, and I am sorry that we are ending this urgent question on a discordant note, but respectfully, I do not agree that we have not listened. That is precisely what we have been doing, and we will continue to do so through the test phase and beyond.