Minister for Disabled People

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Tuesday 19th December 2023

(5 months ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Mims Davies is the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, but I do not think we should spend all our time focusing on titles. I do not want to tread on my noble friend Lord Younger’s toes but, having studied this subject in preparation, I was trying to talk a little about what we will actually do for the disabled. Of course we need to respect them and talk about them in an appropriate way but, as noble Lords will know, it is important to have action and get things done.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, words matter, but action matters even more. Are my back-of-an-envelope sums right—is Mims Davies now the 13th Minister for Disabled People since the Government came to power in 2010? If so, does the Minister think that all this moving around is damaging things? For example, it is introducing massive delays to the Access to Work scheme, which left one autistic woman waiting 13 months to get a job. We need some action now, do we not?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The noble Baroness may be right: perhaps Ministers do move around more than is ideal on occasions. I was delighted to discover that I was not moving in the last reshuffle and can continue. The key thing is to focus on the work in hand, and I believe Mims Davies will do that, with support from across the Cabinet.

Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Amendment Regulations 2022

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Monday 24th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Moved by
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock
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That this House regrets that the Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) Amendment Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/752) do not take adequate steps to protect claimants from financial hardship removing (1) the requirement to evaluate the managed migration programme after the initial 10,000 claimants have been transferred, and (2) the obligation to involve Parliament in the decision to expand the rollout of the programme nationally.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument).

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, my regret Motion relates to the regulations which amend the process of “managed migration”, the means by which DWP plans to move people who are currently claiming legacy benefits to universal credit. Some 2.5 million households receive legacy benefits, with most receiving ESA or tax credits. Some of those households will move on to universal credit over time through “natural migration” if, for example, their circumstances change. Some will choose to move and some will end their benefit claims altogether. The rest will be moved on to universal credit via a compulsory managed migration process. This was originally intended to be completed by April 2017. It is now due to happen, I believe, by late 2024. Will the Minister confirm if the current aim is still to complete migration of all legacy benefit claims by late 2024?

Concerns about this process have been expressed over many years, both within Parliament and outside. Originally, we all assumed the term “managed migration” meant that DWP would in fact manage the process of transferring people from the current benefit on to universal credit, but that is not what is going to happen. Rather, people will get a letter telling them to apply for universal credit and three months later their benefits will be stopped, even if they have not made an application for UC. If they do not make a successful application within that time, they will no longer be eligible for transitional protection, which is the only guarantee they have that they will not be worse off when they move to universal credit. I will return to this.

The original managed migration regulations were introduced in 2018, but the volume of concern from many quarters, including the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, led to their being withdrawn. After a couple of false starts, some new regulations were introduced in January 2019. These still, however, did not address some of the key concerns about the migration process.

DWP began testing the migration process in 2019 through a pilot, which was expected to last some 12 months before being evaluated and the process gradually scaled up. Such was the concern that the then Secretary of State undertook to come back to Parliament before the full rollout. The 2019 regulations permitted only 10,000 migration notices to universal credit to be made, after which Parliament would have to vote specifically to extend the migration to the rest of the remaining legacy benefit caseload. However, after only a handful of cases, Covid hit and the pilot was abandoned.

These new regulations remove that 10,000 limit, leaving the Government free to scale up the rollout entirely at their discretion, without any further reference to Parliament. In place of a pilot, DWP is running a “discovery phase”, but there is no transparency about how this will work or what the learning is from it. Without information about success criteria and performance, there is no way for Parliament to hold the Government to account on this hugely complex and vital project. DWP was due to publish an evaluation strategy and a full evaluation for the pilot, but I believe it is not planning to do so for the discovery phase. Is that true? If it is not doing so, will she explain why not?

I commend the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its valiant if ultimately fruitless efforts to get DWP to provide more information and answer questions about this new approach. DWP’s case seems to be in essence that it managed lots of new applications very quickly during the pandemic, so it does not need a pilot to prepare it to scale up. However, as the SLSC points out, it offered no evidence to support that view. It said:

“Our concerns were not simply an issue about gearing up IT platforms and administrative capacity but also about the practical impacts that these changes might have on benefit claimants. DWP has been entirely silent on these issues in the EM for these Regulations”.


The Committee also noted that DWP has no firm plan for achieving transition by the end of 2024, nor does it explain why providing evidence to Parliament after 10,000 notices would obstruct that objective. It said:

“In 2019, the then Secretary of State, Amber Rudd MP, undertook to gather evidence and return with it to Parliament, to seek permission to complete the migration. That undertaking has been overturned by this instrument without explaining either why that promise will not be fulfilled or offering alternative briefing to this House. … In doing this, DWP also removes any obligation to involve Parliament, particularly the House of Lords, in the decision to expand the rollout”.


The Committee then wrote to DWP to ask for further justification for the removal of the cap, but noted that the response it received:

“Does not provide any additional explanation”.


It therefore drew these regulations to the special attention of the House and concluded:

“We therefore still take the view that the House has been given insufficient detail to make an informed decision about DWP’s proposals”.


The Social Security Advisory Committee also took these regulations on formal reference. SSAC is privy to rather more detail than most parliamentarians about DWP’s plans, but its most recent report was still casting doubt on the department’s capacity to meet its ambitions, noting the lack of evidence to back up the information about DWP performance. SSAC was also concerned about the removal of the requirement to return to Parliament at the 10,000 mark. It said in its last report:

“In the absence of such a stage-gate, we are not convinced that the governance arrangements currently in place are sufficiently robust to safeguard against, or put strong mitigations in place for, those risks which have the potential to impact adversely upon up to 1.7 million households and to affect public confidence in the programme”.


Has the Minister’s department been able to satisfy SSAC any further since then?

Coming back to Parliament is not just a matter of protocol. Amber Rudd, as Secretary of State, made that commitment because of widespread concern about the impact this process could have on a very large number of people. Will the Minister tell us the latest figure for the number of people likely to be subject to managed migration? I believe that, as of December 2021, DWP estimated that some 1.7 million claims would be migrated, but that figure may have come down a touch. However, that is a lot of people.

To summarise, I have three main concerns. First, I am concerned about the way the process will affect vulnerable claimants, given that the plan to stop legacy benefits three months after a managed migration notice has been issued is going to operate like a hard stop. DWP’s suggestion that its pandemic experience means that everything will be fine does not answer the question, because the legacy benefit caseload is not the same as the caseload that came on to universal credit during the pandemic. Almost half of those people, or thereabouts, are claiming ESA, the benefit for people who are sick or disabled. Most of those are in the support group and most have been on ESA for at least five years.

Mind points out that as of last August:

“There are more than 700,000 people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and dementia receiving income-based ESA who will be affected by managed migration”.


Managed migration is therefore going to affect some of the most vulnerable claimants, including many who will really struggle to deal with this process without support. Both SSAC and the Work and Pensions Select Committee have raised concerns about the impact of managed migration on vulnerable claimants. I understand that DWP’s own research highlights similar risks.

DWP says, “Don’t worry, we will support vulnerable claimants through the managed migration process”, but the Minister will be aware that charities in this field are not confident that DWP is always good at being able to identify and support all the vulnerable claimants. CPAG research found that staff do not systematically ask if claimants with a mental health problem require any reasonable adjustments to their service, contrary to the department’s own guidance. We know from some of the terrible cases that hit the newspapers this does not always work the way that it should.

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On the issue of uprating, I am afraid I cannot give any information. I am sorry, but I have to wait until the Secretary of State carries out—
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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Just to clarify, nobody who has raised the question of uprating has asked the Minister to comment on the amount by which benefits will be or should be uprated. On the assumption that every year there is some uprating, the value of transitional protection will be different before the next financial year or after, so if somebody moves before, they will be worse off than if they move after. The questions are, first, whatever those rates are, will the Government do anything about that? Secondly, will the department warn a claimant who could choose to migrate either side of the line that they will be worse off if they go this side of the line?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The answer to that question is that I will need to write to the noble Baroness. She raised it in our meeting and I have asked my officials to prepare me a written answer so that I get it correct. I will write to the noble Baroness and place a copy in the Library.

All noble Lords who have taken part today have asked a number of justifiable and understandable questions. I will make sure with my officials that they are all answered in a subsequent letter. I thank all noble Lords who spoke whose questions enable us to clarify in more detail. Be reassured that the Government are fully aware of the concerns over the scrutiny of managed migration. We believe that managed migration to UC is the right step for claimants and that this is the right time. We believe we know how to protect claimants and are learning from the discovery phase. Given my response, I respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her Motion to Regret.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lord who have spoken tonight and thank the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for making some important points about the position of vulnerable claimants and asking some good questions. I thank my noble friend Lady Lister for a powerful speech illustrating the range of issues that will have to be considered very carefully over the weeks and months ahead. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for raising the questions he did and to the Minister for answering them.

Given the lateness of the hour and the business ahead of the House, I will not respond at great length, but I want to say a couple of things. First, the Minister said that my Motion was “mis-founded” because universal credit is good for claimants, so they should be encouraged to move across, and they do not want to do anything that gets in the way of that. She is right that many people will be better off on universal credit, but others will not. For those who will be worse off, it is small comfort that someone else will be better off. It is incredibly important that those who will be worse off, and especially the significant numbers who are vulnerable, are given appropriate support, that their needs are properly attended to and they are not simply left behind, as she said, when others are moved across.

Secondly, she is right that a number of people are worried about universal credit, but not just on the grounds of media comment. The experience of some universal credit claimants has not been good: waiting a long time for benefits, complicated processes, things that they did not understand. I know, just from the charities and churches that I have spoken to, that the experience has not always been straightforward. There are good reasons for people to be concerned.

There are a number of questions here. The Minister is right: she said the Government wanted to change the regulations because the new approach better fits with their strategy and the old approach placed some regulatory constraint. That was the point: the point was to place some constraint. That is why the Secretary of State did it; that is what it was for; and that is what the Government have simply abandoned.

The Minister has said several times that she will update Parliament at the appropriate stages. The fact is, once these regulations go through, there is nothing to require her to come to the Floor of this House and say anything. The only reason she is here tonight is because I tabled a Motion against these regulations, so once they go through, the department will have complete freedom to whatever it wishes. I am really grateful for the time and the detailed responses she has given, but will she please commit to going through Hansard with some care? I think she will find when she does that there were questions that were not answered, or not answered fully. Secondly, will she please look for opportunities to engage this House and not simply the Work and Pensions Select Committee, so that we, as well as the other place, can properly have our say?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I think I have emphasised the value of regular meetings, updating people and giving them the opportunity to advise us of things they are worried about and things that have gone wrong. I have given my word here. I know our Secretary of State—

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I have no intention of talking as if that is the answer and nothing will be wrong after that. I understand that it has a fixed life. Our job is to work with these people, and I understand the vulnerabilities. I understand the barriers people face when work coaches are trying to find them extra hours they can do, taking into account the things that are stopping them now. The relationship with their work coach will be invaluable. There is nothing in a work coach’s job description that says they must say, “You’ve just got to do this”. I hope that the relationship with the work coach will make a huge difference, and that they will go to their superiors when there are real issues that cannot be overcome through those channels.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her answers. There are still some outstanding questions, and I remain very worried about the impact on people who are utterly dependent on the benefits they get to keep body and soul together. I very much hope that we will have opportunities to discuss this. However, I have reached the limit of what I can do about these regulations, and voting on this Motion would not change them. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Unemployment Figures

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I believe that the Secretary of State for Health, Thérèse Coffey, is focusing on this. I am sorry; I am really not trying to duck the issue, but the fact of the matter is that it is one for the Department of Health to look at. Clearly, we need more people to clear the backlog.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the Minister is here to answer—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Front Bench.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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I am grateful to my noble friend and will try again. The Minister is here to answer for the whole Government, but if she does not want to answer for anything but her own department, can I tell her that one-fifth of adults between 50 and 65 who have left work are currently on NHS waiting lists? Does she accept that the very least her department could do is ensure that it can assure those people that, as well as that problem, it is not about to cut the value of their benefits as well?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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We will have to wait and see what is in the Secretary of State’s review of uprating. We have honoured the pledge we made on the triple lock and I am afraid that until we get to 25 November I will not be able to answer that question in all truth.

Out-of-work Benefits

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Monday 17th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am very happy to look into it. Before I do so, maybe I can speak with the noble Baroness to get some more information to share with my colleagues in the department.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister mentioned people with ill health. The group falling out of the labour market fastest are the over-50s, and the ONS has found that more than half of over-50s who have left the labour market since the pandemic have done so because of physical or mental ill-health. What is the Minister’s department doing to target over-50s who have left the labour market, who are much needed out there and who want to get back into work? Some of them are not technically unemployed; some are not even getting benefits. What are jobcentres doing about those people?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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We have our programme for over-50s and our over-50s champions. If somebody over 50 is on a benefit, they will be engaged with a work coach, who will have to identify the barriers and put interventions in place to overcome them. People not involved in benefits will get a mid-life MOT and direction to Jobcentre Plus.

Income Equality and Sustainability

Baroness Sherlock Excerpts
Wednesday 6th May 2020

(4 years ago)

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate for choosing this topic and for his years of public service, especially for his care for those on the margins and the risks he has taken for justice—from cutting up his dog collar live on air to protest Mugabe, to being willing to be driven blindfolded to try to persuade gang members to identify those who killed Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare. Even more impressively, he has even cooked for Mary Berry. The House will miss him in retirement, but it was a delight to hear the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. I look forward to more from her.

Our country is in stasis, our economy in meltdown and our way of life in the spotlight. This crisis is a lens through which we see clearly the way we have chosen to order our society and our world. The disparity in our jobs, our homes and our wealth reveal massive inequality and injustice. Those in overcrowded flats, insecure jobs or freshly unemployed with few savings are having a very different crisis from those who are working at home, jobs and income secure, kids studying online, relishing the peace outside.

Will the Government talk directly to those hardest hit in this crisis before they shape the recovery? It does not have to be like this. We do not have to accept the poverty and inequality, the gig economy and the tax avoidance, the polluters not paying and the erosion of the welfare state. My noble friend Lord Wood is right: this can be a Beveridge moment. We can use this terrible crisis, like the post-war Government did, to say we want a country fit for heroes—in the NHS and social care, in supermarkets and schools, the drivers and refuse collectors, the stressed parents, the desperate carers, the anxious disabled people and the lonely older people. This is a moment of decision. We can make different choices for all of us. The future need not look like the past.