Alok Sharma answers MPs’ questions to the Department for Work and Pensions.
The aim of the two-child limit is to strike the right balance between support for claimants and fairness to taxpayers who support themselves solely through work. The policy has been in effect only since April 2017 and statistics relating to its implementation will be published in due course.
The High Court recently found that the ordering restriction on the two-child limit for children in kinship care was unlawful. When are the Government going to introduce regulations to make sure that the law is in line with the Court judgment?
We welcome the High Court ruling, which showed that the policy is lawful. However, the hon. Lady is absolutely right: in terms of kinship carers, we are going to be making those changes. This will have to come about through regulations in Parliament and we will bring those forward shortly. I would point out that, as the Secretary of State made clear in her written statement, we will be making changes to include not just those in kinship arrangements, but children who are adopted and would otherwise be in local authority care.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is completely right that in our country someone should be able to have as many children as they want as long as they can support them, but it should not be that the taxpayer has to subsidise them?
As I said in response to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), the aim of this policy is to strike the right balance between support for claimants and fairness to taxpayers, but of course we do have exceptions in place, quite rightly.
When the Government came up with their two-child policy, did they seek any guidance or advice from China about its one-child policy?
I will just report that we have exceptions in place and of course this policy is ultimately about being fair both to claimants and to taxpayers.
The Government have taken a number of steps to prevent problem debt, such as capping payday lending costs. We also have interest-free advances within universal credit, and a system of priority deductions to help claimants who are in arrears.
A recent Trussell Trust survey found that 70% of respondents were in debt as a result of the initial universal credit wait and more than half had experienced problems with their housing linked to debts and arrears. Advance payments simply stack up more debt, and food banks in areas where universal credit has been fully rolled out for more than a year have seen an average increase in need of 52%. The Secretary of State has it within her power to make further changes to universal credit to stop this avoidable hardship and distress now. Why will she not do so?
As the hon. Lady will know, a report that was published last year by the National Federation of ALMOs found that more than three quarters of tenants who started claiming universal credit were already in rent arrears. Other research shows that after four months on universal credit the number of claimants in arrears fell by a third. The key point is to make sure that we get help to individuals and that is precisely what the budget changes the Secretary of State has outlined do.
Could the Minister confirm whether, under universal credit, claimants are more likely to be in work within six months than they were under jobseeker’s allowance?
Yes, I can absolutely confirm that under universal credit claimants can get into work faster and stay in work longer than under the legacy system.
We always aim to work constructively with the Scottish Government. Fair Start Scotland is a recent scheme that we are supporting proactively. My hon. Friend makes a point about changes. Introducing changes such as automatic split payments is a complex policy area, and we are having a detailed dialogue with the Scottish Government. There are currently many issues for the Scottish Government to resolve.
Ahead of the roll-out, my hon. Friend’s local jobcentre will speak to local partners, such as the local authority and Citizens Advice, to ensure that claimants are supported as they come on to universal credit. My officials and I will host an induction session tomorrow for all colleagues who have UC rolling out in their area in the near future, so I hope that he will join us.
I of course congratulate Harlow College, but I also thank my right hon. Friend for the enormous amount of work that he does to promote employment both here and in his constituency.
A small number of my constituents do not have the digital skills or the equipment to be able to process their universal credit online. What is the Department doing to help them?
Ninety-nine per cent. of universal credit claims are made online, and those who need support to gain basic digital skills are offered digital support as part of our universal support offering.
Unemployment in my constituency now stands at 7.1%, which represents an increase of 1,200 on this time last year. What is the Department doing to support people into decent, well-paid and secure employment?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have record levels of employment across the country. There are more than 800,000 vacancies in the economy and help is available at jobcentres, with one-to-one personalised support.
Will the Minister consider changing how budgeting loans are administered, as they currently do not take into account personal debt and so, ironically, can make budgeting harder?
Budgeting loans are indeed available, but under universal credit we also have budgeting advances. If my hon. Friend has any specific cases she wishes to raise, I would be happy to talk to her about them.
Constituents who cannot afford a driving licence or a passport cannot do an initial online verification of their universal credit claim, meaning that they have to wait up to two weeks in order to be seen for a personal appointment. That is driving people to see loan sharks in some cases, so will the Minister look at it?
I will look at it, but if the hon. Lady would come forward with specific cases, that would make it easier.