Speaking in Women and Equalities Questions, Alok Sharma answers MPs’ questions on the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on women.
Universal credit treats all individuals equally, irrespective of gender. It provides one-to-one support and incentives to help claimants progress in work. The latest Office for National Statistics labour market statistics show a near record high rate for women in employment.
The Minister will know that universal credit pays less to lone parents under 25 than the current legacy benefits. Given that 90% of young lone parents are women, surely that is a clear and blatant case of discrimination against them. Will the Minister speak to the new Work and Pensions Secretary to ask for a review of this policy?
We support everyone on the universal credit system, including lone parents. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in the Budget we announced an extra £4.5 billion of support which included increasing work allowances, and childcare support is available for parents of young children.
Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the £1.7 billion announced in the Budget to increase work allowances for families with children, which will mean that 2.4 million families will be better off?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I always find it interesting when Opposition Members talk about helping their constituents. Sadly, what they do not then do is vote in the Lobby to support the policies designed to help those very people.
In Northern Ireland, we listened to organisations that work in the area of domestic abuse and introduced split payments. Will the Minister consider what has happened in Northern Ireland? It is a low-cost, no-cost option. Will he consider introducing it to ensure a safety net for those people who are in abusive and controlling relationships?
As the hon. Lady knows, split payments are available under universal credit. It is very important that if any individuals are facing the sort of abuse she talks about, we need to be able to signpost them to additional support. We give training to our work coaches to allow them to do that.
Universal credit comes to Castlemilk in my constituency next month, where there is a women’s group supporting women who have fled or who are living with domestic violence. They are deeply, deeply concerned about universal credit coming. Will a Minister please come to Castlemilk to meet these groups of women?
I go up and down the country to jobcentres, and I will, of course, go to Scotland in due course, but what I hope the hon. Gentleman will do in turn is talk to local jobcentres in his area and seek that assurance as well for his constituents.
The reality is this: women who work, women without children, women with children, disabled women, black, Asian and minority ethnic women and women fleeing domestic violence have all been punished by universal credit. Report after report has issued stark warnings about the design of universal credit and its impact on survivors, but the Government refuse to listen. Instead, they make claims about a landmark domestic abuse Bill, while their policies, staff and systems are failing to protect survivors. It makes no sense. Will the Minister show some compassion when he gets to his feet and halt the roll-out of universal credit until it is fixed?
We are keen to support everyone who is coming on to universal credit. That is why earlier this year we introduced £1.5 billion of support. In the Budget, we had another net £4.5 billion of support produced. With respect, I say to the hon. Lady that if she wants to help her constituents, she should vote for the measures whereby we put more money into the system.