Work and Pensions Questions

1st July 2019

Alok Sharma answers MPs’ questions to the Department for Work and Pensions.


Universal Credit: Working People’s Incomes

6. What steps her Department is taking to increase working people’s incomes through universal credit. [911644]

One of the key transformations that universal credit provides is to support people who are in work, ensuring they can increase their earnings and develop in their career. It removes the 16-hour cliff edge, which held so many back on legacy benefits, and gives improved, tailored support through jobcentre work coaches.

Will the Minister join me in thanking the excellent DWP staff on the Isle of Wight, some of whom I met in Newport a few weeks ago? I am sure he and the team will seek to make further improvements to universal credit, but it was clear to me, talking to those staff, that universal credit enables them to do more good for more people than the inflexible system that preceded it.

I thank my hon. Friend for being a huge champion for the Isle of Wight and working so well with his local jobcentre. I am very pleased about that and he is absolutely right. As a result of universal credit, people are able to get the support—that one-to-one support—that is so vital. Since 2016, an extra £10 billion has gone into the system.

My constituent, Amanda, who is a single mum with significant mental health problems, had her UC claim closed—unknown to her—at the beginning of May. She was told by the DWP that this was a sanction because she failed to complete an online review. I should also mention that she was in the last few weeks of her pregnancy. Given that Amanda is clearly a vulnerable person, will the Secretary of State commit to ensure that all work coaches are aware of their obligations following last year’s High Court judgment, which demands that they should treat vulnerable claimants appropriately?

Of course. The Secretary of State, I and all colleagues want to ensure that absolutely every single person claiming universal credit gets the appropriate support and the right level of support. I would be very happy to look at that individual case with the hon. Lady. I would just say on sanctions that these are not just handed out; there is a clear process. I can tell her that, in February 2019, only 2.45% of those who were under conditionality requirements actually had a sanction and the average sanction’s length was 30 days. But I will look at that case for her.

My constituent, Craig Ferguson, has Asperger’s, but works in retail. He broke his leg, was not entitled to statutory sick pay and was advised to switch to UC. He then lost his severe disability premium. His UC has automatic deductions for an employment support allowance overpayment and, at times, he receives no UC award at all, which means that he has to depend on savings. How is that fair? Can his case be reviewed?

Of course, I am happy to look at that individual case. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will get in touch with my office after this session.


Topical Questions

T6. I established a universal credit action group in my constituency to track local progress and add performance indicators to see how the roll-out is going in Clackmannanshire. What measures are in place to track local success and progress? Are Ministers willing to meet me to discuss the progress of my action group? [911669]

I thank my hon. Friend for the energy with which he is supporting his constituents on universal credit. One of the key performance indicators is, of course, payment timeliness, which has improved significantly over the past couple of years, and that progress is matched in Alloa jobcentre. His local jobcentre staff will be happy to interact with him and, of course, I am also happy to meet him.



T8. Will the Minister provide an update on the Department’s work to help people who are out of employment back into work, particularly in the Black Country and, more specifically, in my constituency of Walsall North? [911671]

As my hon. Friend knows, more people are in work now than ever before. Indeed, the employment rate is higher in every region of the country than in 2010, including in the Black Country. Specifically, he may already be aware that Willenhall jobcentre is working closely with major employers on employment opportunities and, of course, that our mentoring circles programme is being rolled out for 18 to 24-year-olds to help them increase their employability skills.


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