Opposition Debate on Universal Credit

I move our amended motion.

As it states the National Assembly for Wales acknowledges concern about the roll-out of universal credit.

 

Two week ago I wrote to the UK Secretary for Work and Pensions regarding Universal Credit Help line charges, imploring him to immediately explore and consider alternative options in a situation in which some people have been charged up to 55p a minute to discuss their individual claim in English, creating further barriers and causing much distress – whereas the Welsh Language helpline is free.

We were therefore pleased to hear last week’s announcement this charge was being scrapped.

We also welcome reports that UK Ministers could reduce the waiting time for Universal Credit payments from 6 weeks. As the MP for Stevenage said on Saturday “On that particular issue I think we are very, very close to getting a resolution”.

It is great to see backbenchers in the Government party doing their democratic job and their Government listening – and a shame that we haven’t seen the same here from Labour backbenchers on issues ranging from warnings over a decade ago that Labour’s massive social housing cuts  would create a housing supply crisis, to their failure to speak up publicly now in support of disabled campaigners fighting Welsh Government plans to scrap the Welsh Independent Living Grant.

 Our amended motion also “welcomes the principles behind universal credit”.

As the Communities Secretary said here last week “the principle of the universal credit programme wasn’t wrong”.

When the Centre for Social Justice, envisaged Universal Credit, they found that most people claiming benefits wanted to work but were held back by a system which did not incentivise employment.

They found that despite a massive redistribution programme, Worklessness was becoming ingrained in many parts of the country. 

Research found that Universal Credit claimants in the initial roll out were 13 per cent more likely to have been in work than those on Jobseeker’s Allowance, and earning more money than those on Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Evidence today shows people are moving into work faster and staying longer in their job as a result of Universal Credit.

Claimants will no longer need to go through the bureaucracy of changing their benefit claim when they enter work, as Universal Credit stays with them.

 

Advances are available for anyone who needs it – and around half of people take this up.

 

For those who cannot wait until their first full payment, interest-free benefit payment advances are available within five working days.

 

If someone needs it urgently, this can be made on the same day.

 

Over 50 per cent of new claimants have made use of these payments.

 

At the beginning of this year 55% of people weren’t getting their first payment on time – now over 80% get the right amount, on time, first time with the remaining 20% having missing information.

 

The most recent expansion phase will only take the proportion of the forecast Universal Credit claimant population from 8% currently, to 10% by the end of January – with time to address issues as they arise built into the roll out schedule.

Over three-quarters of tenants were already in rent arrears before they started claiming Universal Credit – but after four months on Universal Credit this had fallen by a third.

 

However, it has always been recognised that although most people on low incomes manage their money, some will need extra support – which is why the UK Government issued the ‘Universal Credit Local Support Services Framework’, in February 2013, developed between the DWP and partners including the Welsh Local Government Association.

This ensures:

  • that claimants who are not yet ready to budget for themselves on a monthly basis, or are unable to use the internet, are protected and assisted onto the new system.

 

  • that claimants who have debt problems or other vulnerabilities such as poor numeracy skills, substance abuse or mental health issues are given practical support at the onset of their claim through a network of local services.

 

And that alternative payment arrangements will be available to help claimants who need additional support:

 

  • Paying housing costs directly to landlords.
  • Making more frequent than monthly payments to help with budgeting.
  • And splitting payment between partners where there is financial abuse.

 

This now comes under the banner “Universal Support”.

 

As I highlighted in this Chamber 4 years ago, DWP officials had been working with the Devolved Administrations since March 2012 on plans for Universal Credit roll out - and we must therefore ask the Welsh Government why Universal Support isn’t operating better in Wales?