I spoke on behalf of constituents in yesterday’s Opposition Day debate on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions’ handling of Universal Credit.
My contribution to the debate is copied in full below:
I too want universal credit to work, but yet again the Secretary of State has come to the House, in the face of evidence and feedback from the NAO, CABs, food banks, housing associations, local government and others, and just appears to want to ride it out and brazen it out. That is deeply worrying and disappointing for my constituency because Newport has only had about 10% roll-out so far, and those are the easy cases—new claimants, single people without children, families with no more than two children. Yes, some people will have managed to navigate universal credit, but, as the NAO report says, for a “substantial minority” that is not the case. We need to address the problem as a matter of urgency before the roll-out reaches the more complicated cases. involving moving people from legacy benefits and people with larger families.
During this limited roll-out, we have also seen the problems documented by the NAO report reflected locally, and alarm bells should be heard. There have been problems with the initial claims: for instance, one family were inadvertently moved to universal credit and had to be returned to legacy benefits. It took 99 days for the lost tax credits to be fully recovered. According to the report, one in five claimants do not receive their full payments on time, and on average those claimants have been paid four weeks late. That means that many people do not receive their full payments for eight or nine weeks—and they are often people with no savings on which to rely. Some of my constituents have to resort to using food banks. One local food bank reports giving out 300 extra parcels every month over and above the increase that it anticipated. Other constituents do not want the advance payments because they do not want to go into debt, and are borrowing from loan sharks or from family and friends instead.
I agree with all the points that have been made about the online system, but let me add one more. People who have no individual ID, such as a passport or driving licence, now face a longer wait for an appointment before they can get into the system into which the delay is built. Those are often the most vulnerable people, and that too needs to be addressed.
Advice services such as citizens advice bureaux are seeing more and more people, and Newport CAB tells me that most of the problems involve initial claims. Arrears and debt problems do not just go away, as is shown by the Government’s own full service survey. Housing associations and local authorities are picking up the extra costs. Rent arrears alone are costing housing associations in Wales more than £1 million.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the hard-working DWP staff out there. According to a survey conducted by the Public and Commercial Services Union, 80% felt that there were not enough staff to manage the workload. I know that they are doing their best with the resources that they currently have, and I thank them for what they are trying to do.
I hope that the Minister who winds up will adopt a more conciliatory tone. It is not enough to say that the delays can be solved by advance payments, or that it is too early to assess the impacts. The evidence is plain to see in our constituencies. The Government have been forced to change parts of this policy, and it is now time for them to pause and listen. If the roll-out speeds up and takes on the more complicated cases, we will, I fear, see only more debt and hardship among those who need the system to help them into work, or to support them if they cannot work.